Wednesday, January 25, 2012

With Age Comes Wisdom

By Mark W. Danielson

Ever wonder why so many authors are older? Two reasons come to mind; experience and opportunity. Experience comes with age, and for many, the opportunity to write comes with retirement. For those of you who have achieved financial independence by writing novels, I salute you. For the rest of us who enjoy writing and are able to accept meager royalties, read on.

Since we only stop aging once in our lives, I’ll forego any further discussion on that topic and move on to experience. It is safe to say that our frame of reference comes from whatever we do and see. The more experience we gain, the more things we have to write about and describe with accuracy. Quality writing comes from being able to incorporate our experiences into meaningful settings and dialogue. To “write what you know” is more than an old adage. While it is possible to research topics and then write about them, the prose that follows is usually less exciting than if you had written with first-hand knowledge.

A lack of expertise becomes obvious when writing about technical items. To write and be technically wrong will cost you your credibility. To avoid this pitfall, consider interviewing experts and then write them into your story as characters. I have done this several times because I believe if I required an expert’s opinion on something, then my character probably did, too. Since my lead detective is an average guy, this technique works well. I prefer him not being all-knowing and seeing.

I would wager there are more novelists who are retired than not. I say this based on observation and without authority, but it makes perfect sense. After all, people with full-time jobs must choose how to spend their free time, and for some reason, most that have families tend to prefer spending time with their loved ones rather than pinging on a keyboard. This is where retired folks have the advantage. Their only downside is they never get a day off. Retired or not, creative writing always comes down to time management.

If you want to write, then open your eyes as if you are seeing something for the first time. Wherever you go, take in the scene, its sounds, its smells, its grit. Note the dust on the light bulbs, the scratches on the doors, the wafting drapes, the creaking floors. Build your experience one day at a time, and when you sit down to write, draw upon your experience and fill your pages with emotion. While age may provide more opportunities to write, it’s the words that count. In this respect, the playing field is level.

10 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

It's no surprise that, given my age, I'm in total agreement with you, Mark. On the other hand, a writer today in her/his 30s say has been brought up in a culture some of whose elements have eluded me, so I have plenty to learn from her/his experiences. All I'd add to what you say is, the longer you've been around, the more you come to realise that very little is predictable. Life is always surprising and there are always new experiences to be had and writing about them continues to be fun.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Well said, Bill. As with everything in life, the learning never stops.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I couldn't agree more, Mark and Bill. The older we get, the more experiences we've had to use as background for our work. I've used a lot of on-the-road near-disasters that I experienced while driving my RV, and used in my Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series. My two women amateur sleuths drive a motorhome around the country and have been ambushed by a Rocky Mountain blizzard, Arizona flash flood, torrential mountain downpour and other frightening experiences,which I couldn't have realistically written had I not experienced them myself.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Jean, near death experiences are enough to influence even the youngest writers:) Drive safe!

Ben Small said...

Couldn't agree more.

Chester Campbell said...

I concur. My eyes (well, one eye so far) have been opened to a world I hadn't seen in years via cataract surgery. I may adsd this to a book down the road. It may not be that younger writers don't have a lot of the experiences us old guys have, but they lack the perspective of the long view.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Chester, congratulations on the surgery. Both my parents have had both eyes done and so has my step mother. The difference is clear.

Perspective is different with each individual and each generation gathered by their unique frames of reference. That being said, the more things we experience, the more we can draw from -- as in surgery or going to the dentist. (Ben, I had to throw that one in for you:)

Jaden Terrell said...

Mark, thanks for the suggestion to interview experts and incorporate them as characters for technical matters. I needed a mastering engineer in RACING THE DEVIL, and as luck would have it, my best friend's husband happened to be one. I interviewed him and put the conversation almost verbatim into a scene between Jared and a mastering engineer. It was a subject on which I knew absolutely nothing, but it ended up being a good scene that moved the plot forward without becoming an info dump. Great advice.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Beth, sometimes things fall in our lap. Many years ago when I was writing Danger Within, I remarked to the captain I was fly with at the time that I needed to know more about a Navy salvage ship. Turns out his cousin was the executive officer (XO) on a Navy salvage ship. Sure made things easy after we got in touch.

Jaden Terrell said...

I think when we're focused on a book, we're so attuned to it that we see opportunities we might normally miss. Like when you buy a new black Honda Accord, and suddenly you see them everywhere you look.