The Longer You Last, the Better It Gets

the longer it takes the better it gets

The Longer You Last, the Better It Gets

I spent this past weekend at a lake house with four women I’ve been vacationing with since we were teenagers.

We’ve changed a lot in the intervening four decades. We’ve launched and built and begun to retire from careers. We’ve had marriages and divorce, children and even a few grandchildren. We’ve seen one another through countless ups and downs in our lives, and even when we’ve had to miss long stretches of years vacationing together because of other commitments, like when those of us with kids had little ones at home, we always come back together and seem to be instantly transported to the girls we were when we met in high school.

We spend most of our time together laughing and talking and cooking, walking or swimming or just lying by the beach or lake or pool reading together. This year we went out on one of the girls’ boat, careened around the neighborhood piled into a golf cart, followed one another down a waterslide, and sang karaoke at top volume on the back porch of our friend’s lake house (sorry, neighbors).

The Upside of Aging

Now that we’re all in our fifties, one of the many topics of conversation sproinging among us all like pinballs during these getaways is often aging. We compare health issues and challenges we never imagined we’d face, share tips for combating the endless march of time across our faces and all throughout our bodies, grouse about technology or social media or the state of the world. We joke that we have become the people we used to make fun of.

At one point this past weekend I shared my football theory of aging, which is that in the early part of our lives we’ve got the ball and we’re busy moving down the field, gaining yardage as we push ever closer to our individual goal lines. But at some point the momentum shifts and aging becomes about simply trying to hold the line wherever we are, knowing the inexorable opposition is heading our way and we will never gain any more ground. And ultimately the best we can hope for is simply to be pushed back as slowly as possible.

Most of getting older is truly a steady process of deterioration: of strength, of flexibility, or physical resilience, of appearance. If we focus on those things it’s easy to feel negative or even despairing.

And yet there’s one aspect of our development that doesn’t steadily decay as we plug through life—in fact it does the opposite: Our wisdom and knowledge continually grow, like compound interest, if we are mindful about working at it and staying open to learning.

Our girl group may fondly remember our younger selves, but we also wish we’d had the confidence and self-comfort then—with our perfect skin and effortlessly perfect shapes—that we have now, despite our wrinkles and sags and extra padding.

We tell a lot of old stories when the five of us are together—mostly in shorthand, since we all know one another’s histories. They often go like this:

“Oh, that was when you were with the musician.”

“Ugh, that guy.”

“That was weird. What was that all about?”

“I didn’t realize back then. Now I’d never accept that BS.”

Within this kind of obscure dialogue is a world of story we don’t need to recount to remember, but the upshot is always the same: We know so much better now because of those “mistakes” we made.

And that’s the rub of these retrospective conversations we have: What we realize as we recount our histories, reexamine them through the lens of where we are now, is that we actually quite like the people we’ve become.

Sometimes sitting around chatting, we’ll ask each other the big questions of life—would you go back? What would you do differently? Do you have regrets?

To a one, our group wouldn’t change a thing. Every “mistake” taught us something. Every stumble forced us to learn how to catch ourselves, or get back up when we fell—and to watch out for similar obstacles and danger signs going forward. Every “misstep” somehow actually constituted a necessary step on the path toward where we are now—which none of us would be willing to change.

What If the Challenges Are the Way?

It made me think about writing, and how much of the path toward mastering this craft we love as authors (“we” meaning this community, not my gal pals, of whom I’m the only word nerd) involves the same kind of trial-and-error, stumbling and sometimes falling and learning how to right ourselves and avoid the same potholes going forward.

Much of the path toward mastering this craft we love as authors involves trial-and-error, stumbling and sometimes falling and learning how to right ourselves and avoid the same potholes going forward.

It’s so easy for writers to get discouraged—especially as we get older, and especially in the current publishing environment, when the most desirable commodity seems to be the Hot New Debut Author. Maybe we’ve been around the publishing block and experienced setbacks. Maybe we’ve been at this a while—a long while—and haven’t gotten to where we so badly want to go with our writing careers.

It’s not that different from being a middle-aged woman, actually. Certainly the eyes that used to follow our nubile young forms now pass right over us as if we’re invisible, instead snagged by the Hot Young Things—and yet we find we’re utterly uninterested in that kind of shallow, transactional, flash-in-the-pan attention. What we value now takes much longer to build.

Some of us have been around the block, metaphorically speaking, with career shakeups, family crises, major losses, and other serious setbacks. And yet here we all are, still hanging in there, still standing, wiser and happier than we’ve ever been—in part because of facing those challenges, and coming out smarter and stronger on the other side.

Some of us took longer to get where we were going than the others (that one’s me!). And yet it was that very delay, the seemingly meandering path I found myself on instead, that made everything I enjoy in my life now possible: the skills I learned that may have seemed random or scattershot then that all play as perfectly into my current career as if orchestrated as an internship. The experiences and adventures and independent milestones I had in all my lengthy singlehood that I’m so very grateful for now, in my very happy marriage—yes, even the heartbreaks and “mistakes.” The “missed opportunities” that would have led me away from where I so contentedly am now.

There’s No Substitute for Time

These girl vacations together are one of the highlights of my year, and nourish me on such a foundational level.

Maintaining these bonds hasn’t always been easy: We are all so different—in lifestyle, in ideology, in politics, in religion, in so many of the particulars of our lives. We all have innumerable commitments and conflicts and demands on our time. Life throws curveballs that may pull us out of one another’s orbits for a bit.

But we work to make time for one another, to gather when we can, to understand one another, to accept—because we love one another, and the greater goal is to maintain and build these connections we value so much.

Old friends are irreplaceable because they know you and your history. They know exactly who you are, and accept and love you no matter what. We can say anything to one another—and often do.

If we never lose sight of our greater goals and values where our writing careers are concerned, we will keep showing up. We will keep making an effort. We’ll strive to stay open, to learn, to deepen our understanding of this thing that matters to us so much—because it’s important.

That’s the other benefit of putting in all that time: nothing can replace that history, those experiences. Nothing can ever replicate or re-create the richness and depth of our connections—those bonds exist because all five of us have shown up, day by day, year after year, for one another. And because we always have, we know we always will, no matter the stumbles and challenges we may encounter along the way.

It’s not always easy for writers to pursue a creative path, either. We all have some kind of pulls on our time, our attention, our resources that may make dedicating ourselves to our writing hard, that may draw us away from it for stretches of time.

And yet if we keep at it, if we never lose sight of our greater goals and values where our writing careers are concerned, we will keep showing up. We will keep making an effort. We’ll strive to stay open, to learn, to deepen our understanding of this thing that matters to us so much—because it’s important.

And if we do that, just as with my friend group, things will just keep getting better all the time.

Tell me about something you value that you’ve built over time, friends—and how the years of focus and effort and attention to that thing were important in creating it.

23 Comments. Leave new

  • Thankyou for sharing this wonderful post. It is essential for us to keep fueling and refueling our writing engine that always stays on the ‘ready’ within us. We must honor its life.

    Reply
    • Truth, Ritu! It’s easy to lose that amid life’s demands, and especially amid the ups and downs of writing…and the flat parts, when it’s just showing up day after day, butt in chair, nothing glamorous. But it really is something to be honored–great way to put it.

      Reply
  • Pat Mastors
    June 6, 2024 11:00 am

    What a beautiful tribute to one of the most precious gifts in life – a group of girlfriends you’ve had for decades (we all met as freshmen in college four decades ago). We know each others’ history, have supported each other through birth, death and everything in between, make a point of traveling together, and still laugh at each others’ jokes. We call each other “the sisters we chose”. No doubt by having each over we’ve collectively saved a fortune in therapy. I also love your football analogy (never thought I’d say that!). And I think it’s so important to push back against the diminishment of aging to the extent one can. Not appearances, necessarily…but the doubling down on being certain of one’s opinions without considering new input (“calcifying” or “ossifying”) – we all know those people. Writing forces you to think, and in some ways forge connections with others that will resonate. And you don’t need good knees to do it 🙂

    So glad I found your posts, and glad for you that you found your people. May you all enjoy many more life chapters together!

    Reply
    • I love that you have your own girl gaggle, Pat! Nothing can replace those friends who have known you forever and so intimately–really the family we all choose. Sisters, as you say (though I have one of those who is male too). There’s a book called The Other Significant Others that I haven’t read yet, but want to, about this sort of chosen support group.

      No one is more surprised by my football analogy than me (not an organized-sports gal)…! But I do like the imagery–I cite this theory a lot to my trainer as he’s pushing me harder than I think I can go…so I can try to hold that line. 🙂 And I couldn’t agree more about not calcifying in our thoughts, in not cementing ourselves into the familiar grooves, but trying to stay open, receptive, the Buddhist empty cup, from the parable. I don’t always succeed at that, but I try to remember to always try. I think as soon as we stop being open to learning and growing, we’re headed toward dead already. Thanks for sharing your insights, Pat!

      Reply
  • Dawn Wallis
    June 6, 2024 12:11 pm

    Thank you for this encouraging post! I turn 52 in a couple weeks and struggle with feeling discouraged that I’m too late to begin my writing career. While I’m thankful to have an agent, a publishing contract remains elusive. However, like you said, those random, scattershot moments have served as a teacher for me. Looking back, I now realize the “wisdom” in my earlier years was more like wishful thinking, hoping I had a clue. In this season, I know I have a clue because I’ve grown from all the missteps and mistakes. While being a debut author in my earlier years would have been wonderful, if I’m honest with myself, I wasn’t ready because I didn’t have anything meaningful to share. I appreciate your continued wisdom and encouragement to writers.

    Reply
    • Happy impending birthday! And FWIW, the fifties have been my most productive and successful time so far, career-wise (frankly everything-wise, actually). One thing I love about this field is that there’s no age limit–and that the longer we practice and expand our worldview, skills, emotional intelligence, etc., the better we get as writers. It’s certainly not too late for you. And if you’re writing now, you’re already a writer.

      My husband and I met and married late–our forties–and we often say that while it would have been great to find each other sooner, neither of us thinks we’d have gravitated to each other then. We had to “season” ourselves, get to where we were when we met, know ourselves and what we wanted. So the journey–long as it sometimes seemed–was necessary…and worth it. I love that you’ve had a similar insight about your writing career.

      The longer I’m in this business, the more I realize it’s not about the destination, not about the product of our writing. It’s about the doing of it. That’s where the deepest creative satisfaction lies, and that’s the key to being a happy, successful “career author.” Thanks for sharing, Dawn.

      Reply
  • Christina Anne Hawthorne
    June 6, 2024 12:49 pm

    “What doesn’t kill you makes you a better writer.” I was a quiet, reserved child in less than ideal home situations (I use the plural because I bounced back and forth between parents). Through it all, that which I honed without realizing it was my imagination. More than that, I caught glimpses of a different world.

    Always that world was there in the back of my mind. Over the years, I kept taking stabs at what wasn’t wholly formed, but to no avail. Meanwhile, life kept getting in the way, sometimes good (returning to school) and sometimes bad (a decade-long illness).

    Now, I’ve just turned 65 and that world is realized. More than that, it’s come to life. I’ve been there, as much as any writer can visit their world. This autumn, I’ll release the first of the many books I’ve drafted after over a decade of working at the craft. This is, truly, the best time of my life.

    Reply
    • Oh, Christina, what a beautiful story this is. Thanks for sharing. I love that you held on to it all those years…percolating, growing, getting to where the story was ready to be told and you were able to tell it the way you want to. Another perfect argument for persistence and resilience in this business. And patience. What’s our hurry to reach a finish line? It’s getting there that’s what life is, I think. Thanks for this.

      Reply
  • Garry Rodgers
    June 6, 2024 1:17 pm

    Great piece, Tiffany. You so hit it with, “Our wisdom and knowledge continually grow, like compound interest”.

    Reply
  • Dee Andrews
    June 6, 2024 1:27 pm

    Brilliant post and the timing was spot on for me.

    I definitely value the (mostly) daily writing practice I’ve built over the years. While I’ve always been a reader, I didn’t begin writing until my 40s and it took at least ten years to hone my craft—that focus and effort and attention you asked about—and then comes the query process. That piece of the desire to publish definitely requires determination and resilience. The successes are sweet; the rejections disappointing (though I’ve learned to not take them too personally due to that wisdom you mentioned!) I remind myself to focus on what I can control (my query letter, my opening pages, my understanding of the market.) I purposefully share my disappointment with my two daughters, who are now young women making their own way in the world, to validate the feeling, to model how to cope, to talk about what is next and how I will move forward (Round 2 of updated query letters!) For me, turning my disappointment into a learning opportunity, for me and them, makes it sting less and seem worthy somehow.

    While I very much hope to see my books in a bookstore one day, the practice and process of writing beings me happiness and purpose, and I still get excited each day for the creativity and challenge that I hope will inspire me for the rest of my life.

    Also, my group of girlfriends call ourselves “our shovels” as we agreed on one of those girl trips like you had that we’d show up for each other in the middle of the night with a shovel, no questions asked. 😉

    Reply
    • Dee, I love the way you navigate the challenges and frustrations of this career. Not taking rejection personally is such an essential skill for creatives (I learned that the hard way as an actor, when they did it right to your face and it felt so damned personal). And yet it’s so hard to learn–I get so worried about authors who live and die by reviews, for instance, especially getting gutted by bad ones. Letting your self-image and confidence rest so much on outside opinions is a recipe for failure and discouragement, and if you take the good ones to heart, you have to give the bad ones just as much credence. But they are subjective, a single person’s unique perception–and we neglect to factor in the well-documented negativity bias humans seem to have, where we give more weight to bad things than good. That doesn’t help our creativity or confidence. And as you so insightfully say, this is out of your control, so let it go. It’s not personal. Better yet, don’t read your reviews. It doesn’t accomplish anything once your book is published. (Feedback is useful only before that.) I love how you model that resilience for your kids, too.

      And yes! Process, not product! If we can stay focused on that, as you do, we’ll feel more agency and autonomy in our career, we’ll grow in confidence, and we’ll create happier writing careers.

      The shovels! I love it. 🙂

      Reply
  • Kathryn Dodson
    June 6, 2024 3:19 pm

    Wonderful post and I love the football analogy. The thing I didn’t realize in my youth was how I was playing in someone else’s game. I left a lot of myself on the field striving to improve whatever organization/company I worked for. In this second half I joyously set the rules for myself and own what I achieve. Life does, indeed, get better.

    Reply
    • Oh, MAN, I love that–“playing in someone else’s game.” So true! I think a lot of us probably did that when we were younger, running toward a goalpost when we hadn’t even thought about whether we wanted to reach it, or it was ours, or we cared about that particular game at all. I have many wonderful things to say about aging so far (and a few less delightful observations), but mostly I wouldn’t trade a day, or go back a moment. I am where I am because of all of it, and I am so content now, more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever been. That’s the gift of aging, isn’t it? Thanks for this, Kathryn….

      Reply
  • Lisa Binsfeld
    June 6, 2024 8:43 pm

    Thank you, Tiffany, for another inspirational post. Much needed this week as I just received a disappointing rejection from my top-choice agent after doing some extensive revisions on my manuscript.

    I too, am blessed to be part of a beautiful group of women who met in college and have continued to get together (with and without husbands) for well over thirty years. And now, too, a new group of writer friends who continue to show up for each other, week after week, to cheer each other on. Your message is a powerful reminder that external recognition is a fleeting joy. It’s the intrinsics in life—the bonds we make with others and the experiences (including the missteps!) we have along the way—that enrich us.

    Reply
    • Damn, Lisa, I’m sorry. Those never don’t smart. Hang in there! I like to recount that I got my lit agent on query 113. 🙂

      Love that you have your own girl group–and writer friends! The former is so rich with history and connection that I crave; the latter is essential for a writer, I think, for support and encouragement and commiseration.

      Thanks for the comment. Good luck in your querying!

      Reply
  • Yeah. Thank you for this. One vision I have of paradise is: whole knowing what I now know, I could go back to about twelve years old. There are mistakes I would prefer to skip, others I would make more frequently, and some I’m sure I could improve on.
    I like your football analogy. someone once said, No one ever won the battle with gravity.
    All in all, since I have to be somewhere, where I’ve got to is as good as any place I can think of.

    Reply
    • Oops, while not whole!

      Reply
    • Ha! I think similar thoughts sometimes, Bob, but mine usually goes, “I wish I had the body/face of my twenties and the mind of me now.” But I generally feel twelve most of the time, so there’s that…. 😉

      I always am fascinated by time-travel books and shows because I think about that “changing a mistake” thing. There are some I’d undo too–but then I wonder, is it like pulling a single thread that unravels the whole tapestry? There was a Canadian show called Being Erica that we loved whose premise was that she gets to revisit her biggest regrets and get a do-over. But so often redoing those events would change so much–or even more, keep us from learning the lessons of them that allowed us to become who we are now.

      Love your sanguine attitude toward life. My mom used to say, “You’re as happy as you choose to be on the path you’re on.” I think that’s a similar idea to your approach, and one I also find great equanimity in.

      Reply
  • Sandy White
    June 7, 2024 3:02 am

    Off topic, but I’ve been deep into self-editing my manuscript, and some of the details are top of mind. In the following phrase, did you use hyphens or en dashes or hyphens with spaces before and after? “shallow, transactional, flash-in-the-pan attention”

    Reply
  • Meta Valentic
    June 7, 2024 3:30 am

    Thank you for the article, Tiffany, it hit home. I’m 52 and started my writing journey in March 2020 – it was easier to get up at 5am and write than to lay in bed at 5am and freak out! I try to surf the ups and downs of the process, some days I ride the wave of curiosity and creativity, other days I fall right off the board. I queried over 100 agents on my first novel and didn’t have any luck landing one. I’m rewriting it based on excellent developmental editor notes. My mantras are “It’s the journey, not the destination” and my favorite from Ava DuVernay “When you’re in your own lane, there’s no traffic.” I just keep going, because I’m enjoying it (mostly) and learning so much about myself and the process. I write at a local bookstore that encourages community, and have a strong writer’s group that meets every month. I love that writing is a solitary pursuit that lands writers in the middle of a huge supportive community.
    My college girlfriends and I have been getting together for girl’s weekends for years now. We even went international in 2019: 9 days in Portugal. We’ve seen each other through it all, and have a WhatsApp chain to prove it. They encourage me and make me feel like I can do this.
    I love your celebrations of friendships and how it relates to writing. I love that I’m free of the notion that I’ll ever be the hot young thing in publishing (I’ll settle for ANY publishing!). And I love the battle scars that have gotten me here.
    Thank you for providing this middle-age novice some inspiration!

    Reply
    • What a healthy attitude yours sounds like, Meta. I love that you let yourself enjoy the heart of writing–the writing–rather than twisting up in all the noise that can accompany it. The ups and downs are normal, and remembering that can help us get back up from the latter, as you say. Your Ava DuVernay quote made me smile–a great one I hadn’t heard. 🙂

      I’m now envious of your international girls’ trip! We can usually only carve out three or four days for our trips at this point, but I’m hopeful that eventually we might do something like your Portugal trip, which sounds wonderful. But that would be a hard sell to my hubs if he doesn’t get to tag along! Maybe that’s a couples’ trip… 😉

      Thanks for this comment. And by the way, I queried 112 agents before I got mine–on my third manuscript. Keep at it!

      Reply

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