I’m in a risk group. More to the point, I’m in every risk group. Cancer, stroke, heart attack, Alzheimer’s, you name it, someone in my family has died from it. In a way, that’s rather reassuring, in that I can be confident that I am not going to die of old age (whatever that means), The downside, of course, is the awareness that I’m probably not going to live what would be called a “long life.” As I am already in my 50’s, this fact makes it clear that I will only be around for another couple of decades, at most. And chances are good that for much of my remaining time I will be in declining health. In other words, I have very little productive time left on this earth.
To be honest, that doesn’t bother me. I’m not particularly afraid of dying, of that “undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns.” I’m not a religious person and have no real belief in an afterlife, but then again, I also have no reason to believe there isn’t one either. So death will mean I get to find out. I’m not frightened of that.
What has bothered me is the realization that when I go, I will do so having made no significant mark on the world. People tell me I’ve had a meaningful impact on my students, and that’s true. But, beyond that, I will leave no legacy, no “body of work,” so to speak, to mark my time here. That was a big part of my drive to become a published author. Other authors write because they have a story burning in them that cannot be contained. I, on the other hand, was writing because I want to be remembered for creating something that made people laugh, cry, whatever. I’ve been told over and over that that’s a very bad reason to write. Fair enough.
Mind you, most writers would say that the only reason to write is, well, whichever reason they have. That’s the thing about writers: they’re a pretty insular, self-absorbed bunch, and they tend to assume that what works for them works for eveyone. If they write for personal gratification, then that’s why everyone should write; if they write to quell their inner demons, then that is, again, the proper reason to do it. If they write because it’s fun to play at being a writer and who cares if anyone ever actually reads it, then that’s the only motivation anyone should ever need. And if there’s some motivation they don’t share, such as my express desire to be a published author, then it’s the wrong reason; they’ve made that very clear to me. As a composition teacher, I know this mindset well. That’s why I have given up my ambition. I realize I will never find the support I need, because my goals and motivations are just too far removed from those of the people I have been turning to.
For another thing, I am in my fifties, and the writer’s game is a young person’s game. Every successful author can tell tales of years spent before they got their first big break. Every writer I know will proudly talk about how they have been writing since their teens (or earlier). I, on the other hand, started writing a year ago. So it’s reasonable to assume I have a couple of decades of work ahead of me before I find success. But my medical profile means I have less time than that before I die. In other words, the numbers just don’t add up. Why should I spend my remaining years towards an objective that will simply not bear fruit? Foolishness.
I know, there are people right now saying, “Age doesn’t matter,” and ready to point out people who blossomed late in life. But those people started before I did, and they were blessed with the long life that I cannot reasonably expect. And, without exception, the people telling me how much age doesn’t matter are all younger than me. To them I say, “Wait until you’re my age.”
But, frankly, there’s more to it. I have, in all honesty, become highly disenchanted by the entire writing process. Upon beginning this quest, I surrounded myself with others on the same quest. But, ultimately, I realized that, although our goals were the same, our perspectives were not. They are younger than I am, and thus not feeling “time’s winged chariot hurrying near” the way I do. They tell me to be patient, but they can afford to be, whereas I cannot.
Nor do they understand my writing process, which, I have learned, is highly atypical. In simple terms, I do not write a story beginning-to-end and only when I’m done do I know what it’s about. Rather, I set out knowing exactly what it’s about, and I write all parts of it at the same time. Thus, I will be working on chapter 47 at the same time that I’m working on chapter 4. That mystifies my fellow writers. Therefore, when I turn to them for guidance and encouragement, they can do little for me. Their process is just too different, as are their goals. I am alone. And running out of time.
No, I’ve already run out of time. They say it’s never too late, but that’s patently false. So to everyone with a dream, I say only this: start now. Start young. You think you have forever, but you don’t. There will come a time when it’s too late, and you will look back with nothing but regret for dashed hopes.
As for me, I will waste no more time on a futile, foolish attempt to be an author of young adult fiction. Those who were actually interested in what I was writing will soon get the chance to read the unfinished project that was simply never going to be good enough for publication. After that, I will focus on what I am capable of: teaching. And I will resume my efforts to share meaningful insights on this website. They just won’t be the insights of a published author.