Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Interview about "Seniorwriting" (2007)

This interview was posted by Paul Lam of The Elders Tribune back in 2007. Since The Elders Tribune site no longer exists, I have decided to post the interview here. It may be of interest to seniors just discovering my book Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write or to teachers considering using it for a continuing education class or workshop. Besides, it provides a good reminder of the main purpose of this blog: to encourage writing.

1. Why a book encouraging seniors to write about their lives?

I believe that everyone has a story, or many stories, to tell, and that seniors need to make sure that their experiences and the lessons they have learned are preserved for their families. As an example, my father was a very quiet man who rarely talked, let alone wrote, and I really never got to know him. However, my brother recently shared a story that our father told him about the difficulties of driving an older Model-T Ford on unimproved roads from our home in southern Wisconsin to St. Olaf College in Minnesota in the late 1920's. Of course my brother remembered few details, and I never heard the story. How I wish our father had written about his life! Our mother did write her life story at age 86, and we are very grateful for that. She died this year at age 95, and we feel that we know her quite well. Also, seniors are likely to have some spare time, and the positive, therapeutic effects of writing, even in a private journal, have been well-documented. We need to write to discover, to heal, to reinvent, and to share.

2. How does your book differ from other writing guides for seniors?

There are many such guides on the market, and I have not seen them all. However, I favor a more creative approach than I’ve found in other guides I’ve seen or read about. Some of them seem to present extremely structured approaches. For example, one advertises “a structured template containing over 250 step-by-step life story questions (with ample space to write in answers).” I would find 250 questions intimidating, like a school workbook to fill in with mindless answers, but perhaps that’s just me. In one online-course I examined, the first assignment was to label the pages of a lined notebook, one for each year from birth to the present. Since I was over 70 at the time, that seemed like a daunting task, and it reminded me that there are many years, even periods in my life, that I do not remember at all. These approaches probably work for some, but I favor a more relaxed approach that involves brainstorming and free writing and organizing it all later. I offer guidance and examples, but no rigid rules.

3. What would you say is your personal goal for this book?

I would like my book to encourage and help senior non-writers develop the courage to write their stories for their families. I’m sure the structured methods work for many, but I think my approach is worth a try. I hope it proves useful, especially for individuals at home and in informal senior center writing classes. The book is small, inexpensive, and non-intimidating. I’m not expecting to gain personal fame or fortune from it. I would enjoy getting a few letters or emails recounting individual successes in writing life stories.

4. Between your books and blogs, the number of insights you produce is staggering. How do you do it?

Thanks for the compliment! Such insights as I share are generally based on my reading, my observations, and my experiences, and I shamelessly borrow ideas from others, properly attributed, of course. How do I find time? Unlike many seniors, I have no close family nearby and no regular paid job any more. Being a retired loner has a few advantages. I once wrote a blog post entitled “Living Large on Line,” and I guess that’s what I do. One piece of advice: always read a daily newspaper.

5. What do you love about writing the most?

I guess I enjoy the independent, solitary aspects of writing. I’ve never enjoyed interacting with groups of people very much, so writing is my way of communicating with the world. Of course I wrote my first book, Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor, to deal with retirement and loss and to get my life in order. I can write anywhere and everywhere, using a pen and a scrap of paper if no computer is available. I discovered that writing is my passion, and I advise all seniors to find theirs, whether it be writing or something else.

6. Is there a fundamental difference between writing personal history and fiction?

I think so. Some people seem to have a knack for writing fiction, but while I’ve written a few short stories, I seem to lack the imagination to write an entire novel. To me, writing personal history seems much easier, but I doubt that everyone would agree. Actually, I’d like to have the talent to write a novel, but it’s not going to happen.

7. Is there any difference between senior writers and younger writers?

I’m not sure. I suspect that seniors may lack confidence in their writing ability, as opposed to having the exuberant “I can do anything!” attitude of youth, and yet few of my young college students embraced writing with enthusiasm. I fear that we English teachers equipped with our red pens discouraged too many in the past. I wouldn’t do that to seniors, although I might suggest some copy editing by a family member or friend (or even a professional editor) if it’s necessary. I really believe that most seniors write better than they think they do. Writing errors aren’t likely to matter to a loving family anyway.

8. What’s the biggest challenge for a senior starting to write his or her life story?

Assuming an alert mind, I believe that the biggest challenge might be simply the logistics of getting started. I advocate plunging in with a notebook and a pen or pencil, but computer users may have an advantage. More and more seniors are learning to use computers these days, although a few are afraid of these new-fangled machines, as my late mother was. Younger people grew up with computers, and a few of us oldsters learned to use them at our jobs, but for my mother’s generation and some people in my own, computers are scary. Anyway, a willingness to write is the main requirement, along with a pen or pencil and paper, or even a tape recorder. I see no insurmountable challenges.

9. Any suggestions to overcome reluctance?

Talk to people who have already written their life stories. Join a relaxed memoir writing group at a senior center or community college, or even on line. Jot down your story ideas. Read my new book, Seniorwriting, and record your writing ideas as you read.

10. Writing sounds like hard work. Is it really worth it?

Yes! Once a person gets started, especially by keeping an informal journal, the process gets easier and easier. Most seniors will become enthusiastic about their life stories, and so will their families. For me, there’s great satisfaction in seeing my work in print or on a computer screen, whether it’s a letter to the editor, a blog post, a short story, an article, or a book. I guess writing can be hard work, but to me, it’s just doing what comes naturally. One warning: if a person’s main goal is to make money by personal writing, it’s probably wasted effort. However, for self-satisfaction and for discovering, healing, reinventing, and sharing, writing can’t be beat!

Note: This book is available on line at buybooksontheweb.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com. See links in the sidebar of this blog.

A New Computer: Another Challenge

My new computer, a Hewlett Packard Pavillion Elite, was installed on Sunday. It has more features than I'm likely to need, but learning to use it is time-consuming fun. I wasn't eager to buy a new computer in these uncertain times, with knee surgery and a move coming up, but when my old computer died a rather timely death (it was old), I decided that I couldn't live without one. Yes, I have a laptop, but it's not very easy to use. I've owned various desktop computers since the 1980's, and they have been important parts of my life.

Unfortunately, many of my treasured programs are gone. I'll be busy trying to acquire and install some of them. Unfortunately, I've lost the serial numbers of some programs, and some simply won't work with the Vista operating system. My data files are safe on an external backup drive, aned I've finally managed to restore them, but they are still so disorganized that finding anything is a real challenge.

Fortunately, my brother is coming from Utah during my operation time, so I'm depending on him to straighten things out. He's good at such things.

A shiny new computer is always a joy (the common color is now black; my old computer was silver). However, this experience makes me even more aware of how important computers are to me. A computer is my main connection to the outside world, and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Speaking to Illinois Woman's Press Association: A Rictameter

Speaking to IWPA

Saturday I'll
Talk of blogging: magic,
Mystery of words on screen, a
Window to the world, communication.
Speak or write? I'd rather write, but
There I'll be. Will someone
Listen to my

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Writing as Therapy: I Need Some Myself

The subtitle of my book Seniorwriting includes writing to discover, to heal, to reinvent, and to share. I've done all of that, but it seems to be time to write about my current feelings of uncertainty as my rapidly-approaching knee replacement sugery, 76th birthday, and move to a senior community loom ahead. I need to write my way through all of it. This seems to be a good time to follow my own advice.

There may be fewer blog posts here for a while, but if you're interested, see today's post on my other blog, "Never too Late!" I'm sure I'll share parts of my healing journal both here and there.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Knee Realities: A Rictameter

Knee Realities

Knee pain:
For many years as I
Limped, arose from sitting with no
Grace at all. My walks got shorter, ended.
Too much recliner time became
Routine, so now it's time
For surgery,
Knee pain.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Seniorwriter is Discovered and Quoted!

Imagine my surprise when Deb Nicklay of the Mason City, Iowa, Globe Gazette discovered my blogs and asked for my comments on memoir writing! Of course I couldn't resist answering. I don't consider myself a true expert, but I'm always willing and eager to "share my wisdom."

Nicklay's article appeared today. I am quoted, along with a California blogger and memoir writer. The only minor error is that I am said to live near, rather than in, Chicago. Perhaps the citizens of Mason City think everyone lives in the suburbs. Anyway, it's a good article. I'm pleased the see more attention given to the interest in and importance of writing: journal, memoir, autobiography: call it what you will. Just try it.

The article headline is "Memoirs are a permanent and personal way to share your story."

Check it out on line at http://www.globegazette.com/articles/2008/09/07/news/feature/doc48c34ee86d1ea893207915.txt

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Begin a New Career as a Writer? A Book Review

A review of The Writer Within You: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing and Publishing in Your Retirement Years, by Charles Jacobs (Caros Books 2007).

In The Writer Within You, Charles Jacobs provides a basic guide to writing and publishing anything from a novel, memoir, or nonfiction book to magazine articles, travel stories, or business writing. His target audience seems to be the educated, entrepreneurial retiree eager to start a new career as a writer.

This book covers a lot of territory in its 300-plus pages, with an index and an appendix of sources for more in-depth information. It covers the writing process, the various ways to publish, and the business aspects of writing, with both instructional and inspirational purposes: "It is designed to be an activist book that propels you to make the leap from thinking to actually doing."

This is a serious, scholarly, well-written, informative book for anyone, retired or not, who is in the early stages of considering writing as a new career. On the other hand, for the more reluctant, perhaps older retiree just thinking about writing as a possible way to discover, heal, reinvent, share, or enjoy, the person just considering writing down family stories, it may seem intimidating.

For them, my own book, Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write may provide an easier start. Its 81 pages just might encourage some to go on to try full-fledged writing careers, and The Writer Within You would be a logical next step.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A New Site for Sharing Elder Wisdom

Jack Schacht has come up with an interesting idea: seniors should share their wisdom and experience on a wide variety of topics, from Aging to Work Ethic and beyond, with younger generations, especially the 35-50 age group. As I understand it, other age groups may be targeted also. The site's name, Wisdom's Feast, helps to describe what 's planned.

If you are interested, go to the as-yet incomplete site and read the "About" section. Request more information under "Comments" in that section. Once your initial blog post is approved, you will be asked to contribute two a month. The benefit is to be a link to your website, as well as perhaps a chance to reach a new set of readers. I don't know whether this site will be successful, but I wish Jack well.

Go to http://www.wisdomsfeast.com and check it out. There are only a few posts so far (one of them mine), but the possibilities are endless.