Retiring to Write or Writing to Retire

From Writers in the Storm:

Can authors ever really, truly Put-Down-the-Pen? While many dream of spending endless mornings writing the next Great Novel, others eyeball-deep in edits and deadlines count down the days until they can just sleep in.

Whether you are starting out in writing or embarking on your fiftieth publication, it is uncommon for writers to officially retire. At some point authors find an equilibrium with their craft, energy, and ambitions levels, the question is when these tip towards losing their creative passion, should they stop writing?

Is your writing career just ahead of you? Waiting for you begin once life allows you the time, energy, and better focus? When is it a good time to begin a career as an author? Regardless of your writing status, we can look at common considerations people have when making a big career change.

Writing is a career open to anyone with a pen and a desire to continuously improve their craft. When to start is a personal decision.

3 Considerations to begin or end a writing career

Here are 3 considerations when contemplating an entry or exit from the work of being an author.


The muse can strike at any age. Started at late age can make a difference on the longevity of a writer’s career, but it doesn’t have to impact the amount of total writing or influence those words have.  Many writers have started writing later in life and have become very prolific. 

One example is of an older man, who after ending a failed career, wrote one of the world’s most notable books.  Arguably the worlds first published modern novel, a satirical response to the decades of picaresque stories of knights saving damsels in distress flooding the bookshelves his time, this Spanish author wrote a masterpiece from his prison cell while serving time for his incompetence as a military leader.

Miguel de Cervantes published The Man of La Mancha in 1605, when he was 58-years-old.  In the middle ages, a person’s life expectancy was near 35 years. According to the World Atlas, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, is the world’s most best-selling individual novel ever with around 500 million copies sold. In modern terms, the Harry Potter series is the only set of novels to come close, with the group of books selling near the 500 million mark.

Cervantes didn’t retire when he found success, he continued writing. His second novel in the series was published in 1615. And in 1620 in English. Cervantes wrote in many genres and had his works published in several languages over the next 10 years. In a dedication he bade farewell to the world, and with grace and competence said he was “with a foot already in the stirrup” only 3 days before dying. He passed away with a clear mind in April of 1615, with many posthumous works published after his death.

Some writers wait until they have retired from another line of work, holding off on their dreams of publication and waiting to have time to focus solely on the story that burns within them. They benefit from having a story build over time, working it over in their mind subconsciously, and ideally, making it easier to write down. But what about writers who begin at an earlier age?  Those who started in a different line of work or are considering a change mid-career?


Some writers begin their author journeys slowly in piecemeal bites. They may chunk off a writing career between breast feedings and/or budget meetings. They may find their first job a misfit for their creative ambitions, one they need that may simply pay-the-bills.  Or they may have found jobs requiring skills that revolve around words only to yearn for time to craft their own novels. Writers who heed the call of the muse concurrently with another line of work can also find success.

See these famous examples:

  • Amy Tan “made-up” astrology for a hotline service, later wrote ad copy, and became a technical writer before becoming a published author. She was 37-years-old when Joy Luck Club was published.
  • David Baldacci worked a couple of years as a lawyer even after getting a big contract. He wasn’t sure his career as a writer would pan out.
  • JK Rollings was a single mom and financially broke when her career broke loose. After college, she worked at various jobs including working as a bilingual secretary and teaching English in Portugal.  She reportedly wrote her ideas for the iconic novel on scraps of paper while commuting to work via train.

We can all dream of the success these household name branded authors have become, but they all worked in other venues before becoming fully invested in their writing. Deciding to move on to writing is a complex decision that can only be made on a personal basis.  Factors like dependent family members, access to important benefits like health care, lifestyle changes that occur with what is likely to be less income, stability of future retirement options, and current job satisfaction all play a role in deciding whether becoming an author full time is for you.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm