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The fallacy of “When I retire, I’ll write a book.”

In last week’s cop-out post, I mentioned that one of the topics I’d considered writing on before copping out was the fallacy of the notion of beginning to write once retired.

It’s perpetuated in a commercial for an investment company commercial that encourages you to think about saving your money for your retirement, when you’ll be able to do all the things you ostensibly didn’t have time for, back when you were beholden to the shackles of the old 9-to-5. One of the examples this commercial dramatizes is that of Writing the Great American Novel. We see a youngish man, sitting down at a desk and optimistically about to begin his Great American Novel. Life intervenes: marriage, and then children (signified by the man’s office being turned into a nursery), and I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but I think we’re also treated to visuals of the man’s child heading off to college and then getting married herself. At last, the child’s room is reconverted into an office, where our protagonist, now gray-haired and slightly stoop-shouldered, is able to sit down again and at last get started on his Great American Novel. It’s quite a lot to pack into 30 seconds.

Now: saving for the future is good, especially since today’s workers can’t count on social security to see them through their retirement years. But all I could think as I watched this man shoving aside what was supposedly his dream was, if writing is really his dream, it’s not a good idea to wait to pursue it until retirement. (And that applies to any dream, really.)

Even setting aside the typical caveats of “you could get hit by a bus tomorrow,” it takes a freaking long time to get good at writing. The average retirement age is now 67. If our protagonist hasn’t worked at writing, he still has his ten thousand hours or million words or whatever you want to call his “training period” before he should think about submitting his book. Let’s be generous and say he’s willing to make writing his full-time job, and he gives himself a 40-hour work week. Going by the ten thousand hours figure, he has 250 weeks, or just under five years, of practice before him. So, yay! by 72, he’ll be ready to submit to agents or publishers.

Or, by the million-words figure, if he gets in 10,000 words a week (which in my experience is entirely doable and potentially even a low word count, when able to devote 40 hours a week to writing), in about two years, he’ll be ready to submit to agents or publishers (which seems to be the route one normally expects to take, when dreaming about writing the Great American Novel).

But finding an agent* takes time.† And then having a publishing house buy the book takes time. And then having the publishing house actually publish the book so that it gets into the hot little hands or ereaders of consumers takes time. Even if submitting by age 72, it’s quite possible that our protagonist wouldn’t have a book out in buyable fashion until he’s 77, if all goes well.

Life expectancies are going up; according to Social Security’s Life Expectancy Calculator, if a man born in 1982 makes it to age 67, he can expect to live until age 84. A woman could expect to live until age 86.

That would leave, potentially, seven to nine years of enjoyment of living one’s dream. Not even a tenth of one’s life.

And that is why, after finishing this post (I draft them and schedule to post later), I am going to work on my fiction. Less than a tenth of my life is not enough.

*Or going the indie route

† Well, going the indie route should take time. That many people thinks it doesn’t need to is what leads to the loads of bad self-published books being heaped upon the populace.

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