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Random Thoughts: Can a Writer Ever Really Retire?

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Setting aside writing slumps, writer’s block and other things that get in the way of an author’s ability to write, is it really possible for a writer to just stop writing? Can someone who creates worlds and characters and stories in their head just one day decide that they’re done?

When a writer’s career is at an end, does a creative mind just all of a sudden stop creating? Or do those ideas still clamor loudly in the writer’s head, demanding their release?

These are the questions I’ve asked myself every time I’ve seen a writer announce their retirement from the craft. I wonder how it can be possible, after years of turning those thoughts into words on a page that form stories, to simply stem the flow of ideas or stifle them altogether.

And I don’t know that it’s possible. But I haven’t spoken with a writer who has decided to relinquish their title of “author” and take on the title of “retiree” to find out if, in fact, it is.

When Stephen King talked of retirement I never really imagined it to be true. With a mind like his, I didn’t think his characters would allow him to stop telling their stories. And it seems they haven’t. Not yet. But if the day ever comes where they decide to give him some peace, I know I’ll be brokenhearted. Of course, knowing his characters as well as I do, I don’t think that will happen any time soon.

It’s one thing for a successful novelist to step away from the demands of a fan-base or the rigors of writing to meet contractual deadlines. But to say that they’re done with writing is a statement I find hard to believe. As someone who has been making up stories, daydreaming them to life, and has been bossed around by my characters for as long as I can remember, I couldn’t even fathom a way to erase them without destroying a part of myself.

Even during what I call my non-creative period I still found myself daydreaming stories. They just weren’t stories that wanted to be written down. But they were always there. Always writing themselves, if only in my mind.

So how does one go about retiring from one’s mind purposefully? How does a writer find ways to escape their creativity? If that’s not possible, then how does a writer ignore the push to create, to write, to develop?

Perhaps there is another avenue in which to channel a writer’s creativity. Perhaps photography or sculpting or painting can serve that purpose. Perhaps creating a different story, a story with images as opposed to words, will do the trick. But I’m still in doubt.

Because it’s the writer’s words that build those stories, those faraway lands, those characters that we, as readers, get lost in, become connected to. It’s their words that paint the landscape, not merely a brush. So unless the writer is adept at transforming those words into brush strokes, they will still be there as insistent as ever.

The need to take a break, to escape from one’s thoughts is understandable. But is proclaiming one’s retirement really the way to do that? Unless one’s mind has broken down to the point that ideas no longer form, words no longer string themselves together into stories, characters no longer introduce themselves, stating that one is retiring doesn’t amount to much more than saying one is no longer writing on a schedule.

But the stories don’t really stop, do they?

These days we’re told that to live longer and healthier lives we need to keep our minds sharp and engaged. If a writer tries to shut down the part of their lives that keeps those wheels spinning, does it mean that once a writer retires they’re facing an early demise?

Perhaps I’m being overly fatalistic. Or perhaps I’m being a bit too naive.

Maybe a writer announces their retirement because their creativity has reached its limits. Perhaps there is a day that comes when every story in an author’s arsenal has been told. Maybe with age creativity diminishes. Or maybe it’s the writer’s imagination that decreases in direct correlation with their age.

A narrow mind does not lend itself well to building worlds of fantasy. As we age our tolerance, our open-mindedness, tends to shrink. So perhaps when a writer says sayonara they’ve reached a point in their lives where their mind is so closed off there is no room for the stories to squeeze through.

But again, I’m in doubt.

While the lens we look through the world at may change as we age, without something more, our changed perspective wouldn’t be radical enough for us to lose every last bit of who we once were. It’s not likely to have caused us to lose every last ounce of creativity we had.

So I highly doubt that a writer whose career spans decades will suddenly become a completely different person once their time left on this earth is less than the time they’ve already spent here.

Being a writer is not a choice. Well, I suppose one can be forced to write to put food on their tables, especially if they’re good at it. But I doubt that those who write novels, who create characters that have elaborate backstories, complicated relationships and live in worlds that don’t always resemble our own, have much say as to whether those characters are born, whether those relationships are formed or torn apart, whether those cities, those wastelands, those distant planets come to be.

They say that writers are the gods of their worlds. They decide their characters’ fates, the directions their lives will take, the time their lives will end. But as much as this may be true, they’re also slaves to their minds, their characters, their worlds. When an idea forms they have no choice but to write it down or at the very least acknowledge it before deciding to pass it up as an idea not worth pursuing. As much as they are in control of their creation, it holds sway over them.

Retirement, to me, evokes the idea of relaxation, of getting away, of escape. But since what makes a writer a writer is their mind, there can be no lengthy escape without the use of a mind-altering substance, injury or prolonged periods of sleep.

And, to me, none of those sound like viable options. Which brings me back to my question, which I have no sure answer for – can a writer ever really retire?

What do you think?

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