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.


Walt said...

I just saw your post & wondered if i might have permission to reprint it in the upcoming Oct. CWA CLARION Newsletter? I need to fill the interview section. Should i contact the author as well?
Please email me at wmcauth07@yahoo.com, NOT @gmail ad.

seniorwriter said...

Thanks, Walt. I've emailed you my permission. I have no idea how to reach Paul Lam.

Slendarella said...

I wish I could get my mom and dad to write out their lives. So interesting to hear them tell stories. Slendie

seniorwriter said...

They certainly should write those stories down! Why not give them a copy of my book, and/or offer to record or videotape them as they tell their stories?

Lydia said...

This was such an interesting article, Marlys. I read that and some of your other posts that I wanted to catch up on. Your new computer sounds terrific; I'm glad your brother was on the way to assist.