A New Career as a Writer at Age 72

When I retired as a professor of clinical psychology in 2006, I wanted to learn to quilt. Color, fabric and collage had delighted and intrigued me since childhood. I wanted to practice yoga more often, perhaps master headstand, wheel, even crow. I wanted to ride my bike and walk my dog and spend more time with the six grandkids who lived nearby. And I wanted to set down some of my life stories so that those same grandchildren would never need to wonder “who was this woman?” the way I had had to search for information about those whose lives and legacies had influenced my own life. Above all, I wanted more time with my husband, David, the man who had miraculously entered and transformed my life when I was 52.

This guest post is by Roni Beth Tower. Tower is a Yale-trained retired psychologist and the author of Miracle at Midlfie:  A Transatlantic Romance.  

She looks forward to learning from others and from her own ever-evolving life. Visit her and her blog, Love is Real, at www.miracleatmidlife.com.

By the time I closed the door on my psychotherapy office in 2011, I had made a quilt with a granddaughter’s kindergarten class that won second prize in the Children’s Division of the New England Quilt Museum’s annual show, could stand on my head for a full ten breaths, and was comfortable biking four towns away (and back).  A photo history of my life until age 68 sat on the living room table and a 488 page play-by-play of the two year transatlantic courtship between David and me sat in a box on a shelf in my office. Luke, our bichon, was growing blind, feeble and deaf. He died between his seventeenth and eighteenth birthdays, having brought so many years of joy and comfort to us, his adoring guardians. We had found an apartment in Paris that we could rent when we traveled.  Our visits to France became alternatives to harsh winters in the Northeast.  Paris from a Personal Perspective, my guidebook for friends and friends-of-friends, grew from 32 pages to 188. David and I were busy, engaged, connected to family, friends and community, living life as a textbook example of the happy middle-aged couple in retirement.

Fast-forward four years. A cascade of events pushed me out of my comfortable nest and into a whole new world, defining the next chapter of my life with David.  An intuitive friend had sent me Susan Cain’s Quiet. It reminded me that my introversion did not require me to hide. Christine Chen’s yoga-and-chanting class helped me shout out from my core.  Linda Novick’s week-long workshop at Kripalu helped me make art that could “unmask the soul”. It announced that my invisibility needed to end.  An astrology reading insisted that it was time to publish my book.

[5 Writing Tips to Creating a Page Turner]

What book? I had no book! And then I remembered the book on the shelf. It was too long. Too much of it was boring or repetitive or told the stories of other people rather than my own. I signed up for a class with Susan Tiberghien, a memoir author and teacher whom I had met a few years before.  Susan suggested I contact April Eberhart, a literary agent who was interested in love stories of women over fifty. April referred me to Brooke Warner, the publisher and memoir guru.  Brooke assigned me to Annie Tucker, my angel-editor. In three months, Annie and I cut the book down to readable size. I was impressed by She Writes Press and its authors, many of them retired professionals fulfilling lifelong dreams of writing creatively. With David’s lawyerly eye on the details, I signed the publishing contract on New Year’s Eve.

David and I were aware that we each had “broken the rules” by ignoring cultural definitions of success throughout our non-traditional career choices when we were in our thirties. Together, we transgressed all the rules and ignored middle-aged stereotypes through our passionate, romantic and tender love affair in our fifties. Now, in our seventies, we were about to birth a baby, the book that told our story. A new beginning?  At our ages? Then again, why not? Our oldest grandchild was in the middle of her freshman year of college and the youngest was turning nine; we could see a second empty nest looming ahead.  There would be so much to learn and we both loved learning. So much fun to be had and we always had a great time discovering together. Opportunities to inspire others in unique ways. David didn’t feel a need to pass along his life’s lessons, but I still did. Sharing them was part of my understanding of why I was born and why my life had happened as it had. So it was time to finally release my internal author who was ready to address a non-scientific audience, to incorporate what my careers as a clinician, scientist and teacher had taught me, to share my truths born of experience. I hope the stories and insights inspire others to live with courage, joy and integrity.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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2 thoughts on “A New Career as a Writer at Age 72

  1. joe

    I have to agree with bbcherrytomato opening lines. I’m also in my fifties and have recently completed grad-school with a Master’s in history. I’ve spent seven of the previous eight years writing countless papers, book reviews, and projects as I worked my way through undergraduate, and then graduate studies.
    I had inadvertently learned to write quite quickly on a laptop and after a bit of depression at not being able to get a job commensurate with my education, I took stock of what I actually had and realized I did have something to leave my sons. I wrote my first memoir last year [it took five months]: 205 pages, 77000 words. I’m eighty-nine pages into the second and have the third memoir outlined. I have a list of twelve more titles I’m going to write.
    Two memories from college gave me the idea to write memoir: the first was the fact that I was constantly told that I didn’t know how to write proper history papers [something about keeping my opinions and observations to myself], and the second was the praise and high grades I received on the work I handed in.
    “I don’t know what this is, but I like it.” This is one of my favorite teacher comments from grad-school. My teacher acknowledged it wasn’t a proper history paper but still gave me an ‘A’. I went back and looked at that paper remembering that I had such pleasure writing it. What I realized I had done was weave a bit of history into a memoir by using my personal experience with the Seventies’ forced-busing as a frame to hang the history of it on. Some saw it as a slight of hand, but the fact remained that I had written a twenty-seven-page paper that detailed a portion of my life.
    When I reexamined the paper, I realized I did have something I could leave my sons: my story. The first book covers four years of my youth that changed me forever; from a lovingly idiotic momma’s boy to a raging motherless teen. The second book jumps to a time I hitchhiked around the country while homeless. The third book details my twentieth year and the stupid, insensitive, and morally-lacking things I did while being considered a certifiable idiot and ward of the state of Illinois.
    Apparently, I needed to get all that out. Thank you, inspirational article.

  2. bbcherrytomato

    Thank you so much for sharing this. You have no idea how inspiring, and timely, this was for me. I just turned 50, and although I’ve always wanted to be a writer, I’ve never really taken that leap of faith. Not seriously, anyway. I do write on those free writing sites like Wattpad, Inkitt and Tablo. But I always thought of it as a hobby and not as a career. I just thought that I was too old to go down that path. Most of my family think so, too (I don’t think any one of them has ever read my stories). After reading this, though, I felt “reborn”! English isn’t my first language so I don’t know if that’s the right word to use to describe this feeling of having an unexpected epiphany of sorts. 🙂 Anyway, I just want to thank writersdigest for keeping the flame (for writing) in me alive. Keep up the good work. You’re definitely helping a lot of aspiring (and probably insecure) writers like me out there reach for the unreachable.


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