What do some of us baby boomers do for our Second Act? A lot of us write. And at least one of us, Tom Winton of Dahlonega, Georgia, has done quite well at it. He had his first novel published only five years ago when he was 62, and now has six under his belt; all have become bestsellers on Amazon. The latest is “Beyond Nostalgia,” which takes place back in those sometimes magical years of the 1960s and 70s. Funny thing is, Tom didn’t always want to be a writer.
Although I completed my first “novel attempt” more than fifteen years ago, I’ve only been socializing with other writers on Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest for three years now. But over the course of that time, I have been fortunate enough to befriend (and learn from) hundreds of authors from all over the world. I’m deeply indebted to many of those folks and to others I’ve met on writer’s communities such as Authonomy and YouWriteOn.
During the course of my everyday contacts with writers, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard folks say things like, “I’ve been writing stories since I was six years old,” or, “I wrote my first novel when I was just seventeen,” or “I wanted to be an author ever since I read Flaubert’s Madame Bovary in high school.”
Well, for me it was different. While in some ways I wish I had started scrawling words when I was six or sixteen, I can’t honestly say that I did.
Nevertheless, by the time I was in my mid-forties, I had done quite a bit of reading. And there were fleeting moments when I entertained thoughts of writing something myself. The problem was that I thought I was too busy— too busy “living life” to bother sitting down and writing about it.
Yes, I thought it would be really cool to be like Hemingway, write in the mornings, fish in the afternoons, and party at night with a bunch of famous and infamous friends. I wanted to be a writer but didn’t want to pay the piper. I wasn’t ready to stand for hours and scrawl stories on lined yellow pads like old Hem did. Heck, I wasn’t even ready to sit on my tail and do it either. But I sure dreamed about getting the respect and attention that accomplished authors so often do.
Then one day I woke up.
After years of never having less than six books lying on the carpet alongside my recliner, I finally thought, Oh, hell . . . I can do this writing thing! I can do it better than most authors I’ve read. I know I can do better. How hard can it be to describe a green hill in Africa, or a southern plantation gone kaput in Georgia? Ha . . . lemme go get a pad. I’ll whip something up right now.
Boy . . . was I wrong!
I went and got a spiral notebook, then plopped right back into my easy chair to begin my great American novel. What did I accomplish that first sitting? Nada, as in, not a thing. I had no idea where to begin. My next attempt was just as fruitless, so was the next, and the next, and every other attempt I made for two straight years. If I wasn’t out fishing, working, running around somewhere, or reading, I’d be in that soft mauve chair agonizing over what a flunky I was with a pen.
I lived on Florida’s Gulf Coast at that time but somehow, after moving across the state to the east coast those two years later, I found myself on a quiet beach with that damned notebook again. I thought if I took a folding chair with me and sat out there on the sand, I just might finally get something down on paper.
And I did. I don’t remember how much I wrote that day, but I started my first novel. Why was I finally able to come up with something that I thought was halfway decent? Did my muse float in on a wave along with all the brown seaweed on that beach? Had my inspiration surfaced ten miles out in the Gulfstream and blown in on the easterly wind? I doubt it.
I think what happened was that I finally had a story somewhat worked out in my mind. I had a beginning, a middle, and an end. And that’s all I needed. Well, almost all I needed.
Sure, the rough plot I had worked out in my head helped give me confidence, but so did something else. I did exactly what Ernest Hemingway told aspiring writers time and time again: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” And I did.
Starting a new novel still isn’t easy for me. None of the writing process is. But in my mind, there aren’t many things in this mad, maddening world more rewarding than a productive morning at the keyboard. And I’m awfully glad that I learned what writing one true sentence can lead to.
In the past four years I’ve had six novels published. I’ve had two different publishers but parted ways with both. Now all my books are self-published and will continue to be. That is, until the “big six” publishers have a desperate, frenetic bidding war over them. Ha! Talk about a classic example of a writer’s imagination running wild!