Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An awfully big adventure?

By Elizabeth Langosy for Talking Writing

9/9/09 seems like an auspicious day to start blogging. No one has succeeded in convincing me (despite more attempts than I care to recall) that dates and times that align do not have mystical significance. When I glance at the clock and it reads 11:11, all is right with the world.

My entrance into the blogosphere is made possible by my decision, six months ago, to accept an early retirement offer from Harvard University so that I could focus on writing short stories. At that moment, I was 58, exactly half a century older than I was when I discovered that books did not magically appear in shops and libraries but were created by people who wrote down stories they made up. What a fantastic concept! I immediately knew that I wanted to be a fiction writer when I grew up. Not only did I love to read, but I was constantly inventing stories in my head. I never gave up on that dream—it just took me a very long time to get here.

In the past five decades, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to put words together to convey everything from the benefits of a home database to the emptiness of a shattered friendship. I married an artist, raised two daughters, and worked full-time at a freewheeling assemblage of mostly creative jobs that included stints as a computer game designer, video scriptwriter, and communications manager. I wrote fiction in spurts of varying intensity, in inverse proportion to the intensity of whatever job I happened to have at the time and the amount of guilt I felt in squirreling myself away from my family on fleeting weekends at home.

Then, with seven years to go before my expected retirement date and the freedom to finally focus on my own writing, I suddenly found myself with the chance to do it NOW. And exactly where am I now? Well, let’s see…I’m a Harvard retiree (as of one week ago) living in a happy, somewhat chaotic two-family house with my artist husband, oldest daughter, son-in-law, and two irresistible grandchildren, ages three and five. My younger daughter, who recently moved back to Boston from Los Angeles to be closer to all of us, lives around the corner. I have a room of my own—the former pantry of the 1890 Victorian that was converted into the two-family—that contains the essentials for fiction-writing and has great views of my daylily garden and the sunset.

I’ve spent the past week clearing my writing desk of accumulated junk mail, Spongebob Squarepants tattoos, old business cards, outdated Whole Foods coupon books, stray buttons and coins, and other detritus of a too-busy life. The opportunity I’ve been waiting for is at hand. I have three stories drafted and honed over the past decade and new (perhaps better) ideas on the back burner. The Writer’s Market lists both literary agents and magazine editors. Poets & Writers warns of approaching contest deadlines. My loyal writers group waits for my manuscripts, red pens poised.

Now where do I begin?


  1. Congratulations, Elizabeth! You so deserve this adventure.

    As for where to begin: Stephen King says it best: "butt in chair." Your desk chair, that is, with your view of the lilies and the sunset.

    Of course then there's the problem of staring out the window and deciding to check for comments on your latest blog post and then maybe writing another teeny little post...

    So, maybe revise the rule to "butt in chair and NO Internet until after dinner" (or whatever works for you). And if you've got any reports from the field for how to deal with distractions, please let us know.

  2. Have fun! And congratulations on your retirement.

    Maybe you shouldn't start at the beginning? That helps me sometimes. Or else, don't write anything on the paper until you've gotten a lot of ideas in your head. Then you can type all the ideas out and feel you're writing really quickly!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Elizabeth, you have the chance to live the dream! And after years of stealing time outside of work and family you have more than earned this opportunity.
    Have at it! I look forward to living vicariously through your posts.

  4. Woo-hoo! First post... posted! Don't forget that you also have two daughters with red pens in hand itching to get back at you for all the times you took what we believed to be the final draft of our school paper and covered it in so much red we could hardly see the black. (I'll just gloss over how much that has helped my writing.) Begin knowing you have someone above you who cannot wait to read what you write first... even if it's just a paragraph you bring me. I'm only a flight up from you. I can't wait to see where this next chapter in our lives takes you.

  5. Thanks, Martha, Elizabeth, and Judith, for your words of encouragement! It's reassuring to remember that there are innumerable ways to proceed, but the important thing is to just plunge into it. As for resisting distractions (especially of the cute little tousled-hair type), I'll let you know how that goes!

  6. So get the parents of those tousled-haired distractions following this blog (hi, Hadley!) and sending the link around. I need advice from them about publicizing the next chapter of our lives.

  7. Thanks, Hadley! I won't forget that I have two (very well-trained!) editors close at hand.

    I just read Elizabeth Spann Craig's thoughts on how to fit in writing with everything else in one's life ( A perennial question for writers...

  8. Just start writing. It's cruel but it's the way it is. Write. Write an outline, discover your characters, but write. One word after the other. It's like walking - sooner or later you catch your breath and can begin to run.

    Wishing you the best of luck and every type of encouragement!


  9. Thanks, Elspeth, for your encouragement and words of wisdom. You are so right! I'm looking forward to getting back into that Zen mode of writing where you lose track of time and yourself.

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