So when are you going to retire? My husband’s just taken early retirement, and we’re the same age, so it’s natural for people to ask.

Never, I used to say. As a writer, I can carry on for as long as health and desire allow. I want to be like novelist Ursula Holden who wrote in The Author about how, at 91 and in a care home, she set aside an hour a day to write, despite exhaustion and arthritic hands.

But I have to admit it’s got me thinking.

People who see 60 on the horizon start asking:

– Do I look forward to my work each day? Am I still able to perform in it? Do I want to?

– If I do enjoy it, do the rewards – people, job satisfaction, pay and conditions – outweigh the downsides?

– Is my job having a harmful impact on the rest of my life? Is there something else I’d rather be doing?

And then the big one: Do I really HAVE to do this, or can I afford to stop?

So what happens if writers ask those questions?

We must get some enjoyment from writing or we wouldn’t do it. And since few of us earn much from our writing, it won’t damage us financially to stop. In fact if we’ve been buying in skills to help us self-publish, we’ll probably save money!

But, are the rewards of writing outweighed by the downsides? That’s another matter.


We all know that achieving mainstream publication takes persistence and a rhino-hide skin, and the odds are against us. We’re prepared to take the knocks and learn from every failure. The writing industry promises that persistence pays off: if you have talent, you will achieve your dream. The misery of rejection is a price worth paying.

But what if your writing is as good as you can possibly make it, yet the years pile up along with the rejected manuscripts?

People call a halt in other professions or activities when they’ve given it their all but not hit the heights. Like the retiring tennis players who never made it past the second round at Wimbledon, or entrepreneurs whose idea never took off, or one-hit-wonder musicians.

Why should unpublished writers feel obliged to keep trying for ever, like some desperate gambler always having one last bet because, “This time I’ll be lucky”?

If years of failure are getting you down, maybe it’s time to stop. Do you REALLY have to do this?

Buy my book!

Whether you’re commercially or self-published, to be taken seriously as an author, you have to sell yourself. Establish that author platform. Keep boosting those three R’s of reach, ranking and reviews.

Competing with millions of other authors 24/7 creates status anxiety, envy, schadenfreude. You have to adapt constantly as new techniques and technologies emerge, or you’ll sink without trace. You gain so many new “oughts” that you’ve no time for actual writing, let alone life. If this energises you, carry on. But if it saps all joy from life, why are you putting yourself through it?

Why have you given such power over your life to an Amazon algorithm?

Back in the flow

Personally, I can’t even think about retiring from writing without wanting to write about it, so I guess I’m not ready to retire just yet. But seeing friends and family find joy and freedom after opting for early retirement has made me revisit my goals as a writer.

I may not have achieved everything I hoped for when my first book was published back in 1989, but I’ve come a long way. I can choose where in my writing life to put my energies. I can use social media as a writer without feeling I HAVE to do everything I’m told writers must do.

No, I’m not retiring, but I do feel a little more free.

How about you?

2 Thoughts on “Writers: time to retire?

  1. Anne on July 6, 2014 at 6:58 pm said:

    Thanks for sharing that, Judith. I’m sure you’re right that it’s about finding the level that suits you, and making those choices which open life up to the new friendships and opportunities which writing can give us. And a book is something which outlasts us in a way tidy kitchen cupboards don’t!

  2. I retired from full-time work three times. Couldn’t stand the lack of stress. That was over ten years ago – now I write, teach a little, give talks and yes, spend a great deal of time promoting my books (not sure I enjoy that bit too much). However, there is nothing quite like seeing your latest book in print so no, I have no plans to stop writing. Am I bothered that I’m not up there with sales figures of some of my Facebook writer friends? No. Life’s too short. I’m not saying I don’t get envious, but I’m not prepared to spend every hour of my day learning new technologies and pushing myself out on social media. On the other hand, I’ve made some great friends out there. Indie authors are a friendly bunch, always ready to sympathise, encourage and suggest new things. I’d miss it if I stopped it all. I suppose the secret lies in finding the level that suits you. And if I gave up writing and all that goes with it (including some great holidays as a cruise lecturer) how on earth would I fill my days? Perhaps, as I no longer had a good excuse, I would have to clean those windows, sort out the kitchen cupboards and … No. the alternative is too grisly to contemplate. I’ll keep on writing long after I’ve given up on teaching Tai Chi and going to my line dancing, yoga, Pilates and Zumba classes. And as for those kitchen cupboards? I’ll just keep the doors shut.

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