Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
February 22, 2023

Retiring to Write or Writing to Retire – Part 1

By Kris Maze

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.


Some writers are published in their teens and others start to play with words late in their younger years. These writers have the opportunity to become the established base-of-knowledge that publishing relies upon. Respected resources in the field, with long backlists of publications, able to point to accolades and awards. They not only dream about life as an author, they have lived it.

And sometimes it is easy to glamorize what we don’t know.

Long term authors also can risk seeing what others see as a passion, become a joyless pattern of work. In their later years, they may have loyal followers, but lose the value in publishing one more thing due to burnout or difficulties with the business of publishing. They may be tired, worn, and at risk of losing their writerly faith. They may be those considering retiring from writing.

These writers may have been stuck at the hamster wheel of producing product and could benefit from taking a break.  Giving oneself time to reconnect with the joy of writing can rekindle the desire to write.  There is a possibility that a writer could retire, but that darn muse may have different plans. Being open to changes as a seasoned writer is also healthy to consider. If you are someone else you know is on a potential route to burnout check out these Writers in the Storm blog posts here and here for ideas on keeping your writing life healthy and vibrant.

Writing books from the grave. 

While some famous writers have ‘written’ books from the grave, it is more likely that they simply fade off into the publication horizon. See if you can recognize these famous examples.

  • V. C. Andrews - Andrew Neiderman has written many gothic horror and thriller novels in his own name but is also known for his ghostwritten novels as V.C. Andrews, who died in 1986. The publisher, Pocket Books, has released 33 more Andrews books with more to come.  They have a small disclaimer saying that the author of the Flowers in the Attic series has passed away. He has been writing works under the Andrews name for 26 years.
  • Robert Ludlum – The Bourne Identity fame had a manuscript remaining when he died in 2001. This was sold to another publishing company after his death and at that time the executive editor, Matthew Sheer stated that a ghostwriter would start writing as him in the future. The literary executor, Henry Morrison claims the material is Ludlum’s saying, “He’d been working very industriously since 1997. If something happened to him, he wanted enough books coming out over the next few years to provide for his grandchildren.”
  • Louis L’Amour – The long standing westerns writer died in 1988, but his wife and literary manager released material for 13 new books since then.  She is quoted, “My main focus has been keeping Louis’ work alive. I don’t feel the need to put his name on something that isn’t his.”

These writers were prolific through their lives and kept their writing going after they passed. This may seem like a grim consideration, but it does present the question of how do authors handle their creative work?  How can they ensure their hard work goes into further creative venues, and ones that will follow their wishes?  Watch for part 2 of my mini-blog series for thoughts on how writers keep producing works for readers, even if they retire or pass away.

Final Thoughts

Writing is a gamble.  Any investment of time and energy can improve your skills as a writer, but doesn’t ensure a readership, recognition, or a financial reward. It has no guarantee of success. To some writers that is worth the chase. Writing as a career is creative venture and they are willing to take the risks. Others need time to transition their lives into their creative selves.  Still others took the jump into the world of publishing from their first career steps.

Where are you in your writing career?  Just starting to dabble in publishing? Are you shopping around your first manuscript?  Or ready to dive into the world of indie publishing? Do you have a coveted backlist of titles and followers and loving it? Or can’t wait to get out of the grind of publish edit polish promote, repeat-repeat-repeat?

What changes you have gone through or plan to make in your work as an author? What tips or pitfalls do you have to share regarding making decisions to write as a career or to slow down the grind?  

About Kris

Kris Maze is an author, writing coach, and teacher. She has worked in education for many years and writes for various publications, including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and the award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. You can find her horror stories and young adult writing on her website. Keep up with future projects and events by subscribing to her newsletter.

A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors.

And occasionally, she plays in snow.

17 comments on “Retiring to Write or Writing to Retire – Part 1”

  1. This is a thought provoking piece, Kris.

    One thing to consider is whether writing is a career or a hobby. How does writing fit into one's life? Family? Finding a balance isn't always easy.

    1. That's a good point, Ellen. Work balance is a consideration, along with why we write. Is writing, as you say, a hobby? Or is it for financial source of income?

  2. What a great article, showing that there is no one path to a writing career.

    I've been writing my entire life and had two big blocks of time when I was younger when I could write full-time. I wasted much of that time, often writing the most when I was the busiest with other jobs. Now that I'm retired and writing full-time again, I'm no longer wasting time having published 14 books in the past 8 years. I'm in a hurry now. So many projects, so little time.

    1. What a great testament to writing, Diana.

      It's interesting that you have had the dream blocks of time where you could write. Looking back in my own past, I also wasted a bunch of potential writing time. I find when I am busiest, I stick to my deadlines more.

    2. And kudos on the various published books! That's what our writing communities are about, celebrating our wins. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the motivational article. I especially love Cervantes' story. I'm a retired technical writer who started writing short fiction six years ago. With a few published short stories under my belt, I'm working on a novel while taking breaks to write stories. Yes, the clock is ticking, but I pay it no mind.

    1. Oh, another Quixote fan! He's such an altruistic antihero. His escapades always make me giggle and feel better about my own occasional gaffs.

    2. And Sipora, congratulations on moving forward on your desires to write fiction. It sounds like you have waited a long time to dip into the more creative side of the writing pool.

      Keeping in mind the fun part of crafting a story helps me to not worry as much about the 'clock ticking'. Although for some writers, that pressure could be motivating, for me, it can take away from my creative energy.

  4. Kris - this is so near to my heart these days! I've been stepping back from the big projects so I can focus on my writing, as terrifying as that has been. I was going through some old boxes today and found my early report cards. At the old-age of 5, one of my teachers complimented my growing creative writing talent. Throughout all of my school years, I see notations of this on my report cards. It is a passion for me. Something I've let idle for too long. I'm of the ilk that goes insane without writing!!!

    1. Wonderful, Lisa. The muse was strong with you even as a little girl... don't ignore that wild, imaginative beast, right? Muses have a way of not letting us ignore them for too long.

      Work/Writing balance issues happen even when we are deep into the writing career too. I'm glad to hear you are getting back into your own works and creating more. 🙂

  5. I read *Don Quixote* in its native language when I was in high school--it was an advanced Spanish class.

    I'm still early in my writing career. I have been published five times and am still plugging along.

    1. Yeah! Another Spanish Lit fan! (Perhaps, it was a requirement that I just happened to love.)

      Denise, I too am plugging along. Some days with more mojo than others, but I couldn't imagine a better way to spend a day. Keep on writing and publishing. That's the dream. 🙂

    1. Oh Holly,
      That warms my writerly heart. 🙂
      We hope to see you around WITS for great tips on writing and publishing.
      Happy writing and enjoy your journey!

  6. Rex Stout, best known for the Nero Wolfe novels, dabbled in writing stories for pulp magazines in his 20s, but then, determined to find a better way to support himself, put his writing on hold for many years. He was 42 or 43 when he published his first novel, and in his late 40s when he started the Nero Wolfe series. It didn't hold him back: he would write 33 Wolfe novels and 39 novellas by the time of his death at 88.

    As for me, I'm 62 and have 2 novels on the go (and a third in mind). I have been chiseling away at them for years and am not sure I'll ever finish! I have no great designs on being published or becoming "successful" at it. (If I ever do finish a book, I will likely print up a few copies for friends and family.) I write mainly to amuse myself. I like the challenge of it but I am very slow, and I struggle with plotting. Sometimes it gushes out. But I can also spend spend weeks or even months chewing over a single paragraph until I am happy with it!

    Part of the problem is that my fulltime career also involves writing, but of a very different sort (previously journalism, now technical/analytical writing and business marketing). It's demanding of my time and mental energy, and I find that "changing gears" is not easy. Still, it's not something I stress over.

    But I would surely like to finish at least one of my books 🙂

    Anyway, thanks for the blogs. Very interesting and helpful!

    1. Hi Alistair,
      Thanks for your example of a writer who made their mark in literature. My hope is that you continue to write, it gets easier (and harder!) and plots are tricky for most of us. Especially if your muse is typically busy working on someone else's words.

      The key is if you still enjoy writing, the struggle is worth it. Who knows? Perhaps you could be the next Rex Stout.

      Thanks for joining the conversation. Happy writing!

  7. 1) “Miguel de Cervantes published The Man of La Mancha in 1605,” you say, but Miguel de Cervantes DID NOT PUBLISH the Don Quixote.. If you quote, please do it right. Miguel de Cervantes was allowed to bring the translated edition of “The history of the valorous and wittie Knight Errant Don-Quixote of the Mancha ( never write La Mancha!! That region was established 80 years later!!) to the publisher. That’s why it is said “composed by Miguel de Cervantes” not written by..
    2) “ And in 1620 in English,” you say, but the original English editions were published in 1612 and 1620.
    3) “He passed away with a clear mind in April of 1615,” you write.. but that was in 1616.
    This was just some comment to let you know that writing is not easy!

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts





Copyright © 2024 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved