Writing Life: Writing Through Retirement and a Pandemic

Big change happening!
Six months ago I made a decision. I gave notice to my boss that I was going to retire on April 15, 2020. Spring is a good time to retire, right? New beginnings, a fresh outlook on life, everything's comin' up roses, and so on....

Little did I know then that I would be retiring in the midst of a pandemic.

I mean, who does that? Who chooses to retire at a time when the economy is tanking, and our health care system is blowing up?

Well, I did. 

I didn't have a choice, really, because once the retirement train was on the track, there was no stopping it from rolling along. Social Security was in motion and I'd started the process of drawing down my retirement funds from work—but then I halted that train car when the stock market plunged. I’m still waiting for those funds to recover. So be it.

I recall a conversation with the retirement rep. He asked: What sources of funds did I have available besides my retirement funds? My response was this: savings, social security, and a side-hustle—the triple S.
Savings, social security, and a side-hustle?

So, this is me, one month after R-Day, waiting on Social Security to kick in, eye-balling my savings, and side-hustling the writing under a “Stay Safe at Home” order from the state. 

While all this could have affected my writing, it hasn't. In fact, I’ve been more productive in the past month than I’ve been for some time.

I’m finding my retirement writing niche. We’ve all heard it—writing is built from routine and habit. I believe these two things are basic for most successful writers. You can create and improve craft, prose, narrative, skill, style, and voice only by writing consistently, daily, and routinely. The more we write, the better we get. The more we write, the book gets written. Routine is essential.

For the past two years, I’ve worked remotely for the day job. I moved back to my hometown in late 2017 to better support my father after my mother passed. I was sort of shocked that my work-from-home request was granted back then—but it was. So, working from home became my norm; I had some firm habits in place. And, pandemic be damned, I was already used to being “in the house” all day. 

I remember posting on Facebook announcing my pending retirement. An author acquaintance made a comment about getting a good routine established early and sticking with it, if I wanted to get any writing done. My thought at the time was: Pish. I already have that nailed. And I did. While working at home, I was up no later than 6 a.m. I wrote fiction from the time the coffee hit my cup until approximately 9 a.m., when I would switch gears to the day job. I knew I would continue writing in the mornings, so hey, I got this, I told myself. 

Then I remembered another author friend who retired a couple of years ago. She said something like, “I can’t get motivated. All this time on my hands, you'd think I would get so much done. But I can't get motivated.”

Coffee is part of my routine!
Ack! So advice heeded. Day job gone now, I needed to establish a durable and reliable writing routine ASAP. (Admittedly, I did take a few days after April 15 just to soak up the notion of not having to go to work after forty years, and that was nice, but I did not let it linger...)

It has been a month now. I’ve finished a novella, and just finished a novel—both of which were started before retirement, I confess. But hey, the writing is happening, and things are getting done. I’m hoping I don’t panic my editor....

Side note: Want to read the first three chapters of that novel for free? Go HERE! (Grab your Sampler of The Cowboy's Secret Baby. Coming Soon!

How am I doing it? Well, for one, I am not burning myself out writing (been there, done that, drank that cool aid). I want to be productive with my writing, but I also have books to market, kitchen cabinets to paint, garden to plant, house to keep, yard to mow, father to look after, and once this pandemic thing lets up, people and places to see. Bottom line, I want to enjoy my retirement, and don’t want to be tied to my laptop—but I do want to be productive every day and be more consistent in getting new writing projects out there and into the marketplace. (You know, the side-hustle income thing...)

So this is what I discovered: I feel accomplished and happy if I write one full scene a day. That’s it. The next day, I edit and polish that scene, then I write the next one. And so on. Simple plan.

I generally write three scenes per chapter. By writing a scene from beginning to end, I feel a sense of closure for that piece of the work. Three scenes in 3 days means 2 chapters a week. I can live with that. If I write that scene first thing in the morning—when my brain is fresh and unencumbered with external thought—then I don’t have that oh-I-haven’t-written-yet guilt hanging over me the rest of the day. I get up, get writing, finish the scene, and done! On to the garden I go... Happy retired camper here.

And guess what? I even did math with this theory in mind. Here goes:
  • If I write a scene a day for 6 days of the week (giving myself a free day for flexibility)—given 52 weeks in a year—that’s 312 scenes in a year.
  • Let’s say I average 20 chapters a book—3 scenes per chapter—that’s 60 scenes.
  • Divide those 60 scenes into 312, and I will produce 5.2 twenty-chapter books a year. (Mileage may vary per project; novellas would produce more final products, of course!).
Whoa! Sometimes math is a good thing! I haven’t written 5 books in a year for... um, years. I can do this! My current plan, starting June 1, is to release 3 new projects by end of year. Hold me accountable, please? Thank you.

So this, my friends, is my retirement motivation. Getting 5 projects out there a year is my end game, and hopefully can supplement that plunging retirement fund. One scene a day is enough to keep me rolling and moving forward. It’s not enough to burn me out. I’m still up by no later than 7 a.m. these days. My scene is generally finished by eleven, way before lunch. The remainder of my day is open for other book work, marketing, and some life things, too.

Like those kitchen cabinets.

Life rolls on, even if you retire during a pandemic.

(Cross posted from Romance Gems Blog)

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