Late Bloomer: On Writing Later in Life
by Naomi Beth Wakan

Wolsak and Wynn, 2006. ISBN 1-894987-11-X.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 06/10/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Creative Life; Nonfiction: Elders

Naomi Beth Wakan says she really found her voice when she was in her 60s and 70s. That makes her the ideal author of a book geared to seniors looking to express themselves by writing. The question she asks in her introduction is an enticing one: "Why not start writing now for the joy it?"

Wakan quotes many late bloomers and the reasons they began to write late in life. Leanne McIntosh for instance, a British Columbia poet, wanted "to share her being and to share her talent." Rather than procrastinate with fears and worries, Wakan suggests making a list called "Reasons to Write." At the top of the list you could put "sheer joy of expressing myself." That's how she feels about writing. It's that enthusiasm as well as her practical suggestions, humor and insight that make this book a pleasure to read.

"Pursuing a dream keeps you young," Brenda Rickman said. I think that's good advice! Rickman was a retired Tennessee school librarian when she wrote her first novel, The Illuminator, translated into ten languages. Being older offers a sense of urgency, Rickman thinks. One of her suggestions is to submit smaller pieces so there are little successes on the way to getter a larger work completed. That's something I have found useful as well.

Wakan writes from her own experience as well as from her research. She begins with the place in which to write, a writing space to call your own. Many late bloomers would be happy to read Wakan's lively description of her own writing life as she shares the practicalities and the joys. I always find I have a companion at my side when I read a book about writing. Wakan must feel that way, too: she enjoys reading books about writing even though she has written over 30 books!

You don't need a "Wow! Experience" to write, Wakan advises. She shares her own list of subjects she could write about. I'm sure it will inspire and motivate readers to create a list of their own that will lead to their own personal essays. Essays and poetry are Wakan's forms, but she also describes novels and memoirs. A "poem-memoir" written in the third person is Wakan's approach to memoir. I found this to be such a good idea as it can stand on its own or reveal the many stories from life we have to tell.

Wakan even covers writer's block, with excellent suggestions from a seasoned writer—herself! The book itself offers support and encouragement, but Wakan also suggests attending workshops for specific learnings, a jump start, and for the bonding that takes place among attendees. Support can also be found in a writers' group, where you may leave feeling "elated and strengthened in the worth of your own writing."

Wakan helpfully mentions non-literary support as well. She and her husband Elias split chores down the middle so they support one another's creativity—in her case writing and, in his, sculpting.

A chapter on "What to do when the work is finished" has useful suggestions regarding proof reading, submitting work and receiving rejections. Her best advice is that concentrating on money and fame is harmful "and I mean very harmful, to good writing." Ambition is also "a devastating impediment to getting your words down on paper," which means not only the "good" writing but doing any writing at all. No matter what age we are, this is something to remember.

The second half of the book consists of 13 interviews with other late bloomers—but first Wakan begins with an interview of herself. In it she says she seems "to rely on my little floating bubble of a world for most of my writing themes." Poems and prose excerpts are included with the interviews. I found it such a pleasure to read about people who started to write late in life. Some of them have self-published their work, the pros and cons of which are useful for readers as well.

It's lovely to see the haiku of Murray Barbour who, until this book was in print, had only shared his poems with Naomi Wakan. In his 90s and legally blind, Barbour had someone type his haiku one to a page so he could see the large lettering.

While some issues such as fatigue and memory loss (about recent events, not the past!) are fairly common to aging writers, when it comes to writing I think these issues apply to all of us. Late Bloomer would be a wonderful gift to encourage any would-be writer you know. Wakan issues an invitation to join her and find "a closure to the past, a healing in the present, a promise for the future".

Naomi Beth Wakan has written educational books geared to children and many books for the adult market. Her most recent are Segues (Wolsak and Wynn Publishers) and Compositions: Notes on the Written Word (Wolsak and Wynn Publishers). Naomi Beth Wakan and her husband, the sculptor Elias Wakan, live on Gabriola Island, British Columbia. Visit her website. You can read Mary Ann Moore's recent interview of Ms. Wakan in the Vancouver Sun.

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