A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write

by Marlys Marshall Styne

Infinity Publishing, 2007. ISBN 0741442965.
Reviewed by Duffie Bart
Posted on 11/12/2007

Nonfiction: Creative Life

Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write lives up to the promise of its title. It is brief: 81 pages. I consider this a good thing. Too many books that purport to help others to write are unnecessarily wordy. This in itself can be discouraging.

However, the brevity and straightforward quality of this book succeeds in making the writing process more fun and less intimidating than other books of its kind. (Another good thing: seniors are open to being encouraged. They deserve nothing less.) Its author, Marlys Marshall Styne, writes about what she knows. A retired teacher, she wrote this book at age 73 and self-published it through a reliable company. I am impressed when a writer practices the words she preaches; she guides seniors through the process of writing their memoirs, having written her own memoir in a book entitled Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor (Infinity, 2006). She also writes two blogs, "Never Too Late!" and "Write Your Life!".

Early in her book, Ms. Styne makes the point that "Many people are better writers than they think they are." She believes that there is no absolute right or wrong" way to write. I heartily agree with this. In my view, writing requires a healthy dose of self-confidence. Without it, the discipline necessary to sit down, to take oneself seriously and hold to the task, will not be strong enough.

The cover of Ms. Styne's book offers four good reasons to write about oneself: to discover, to heal, to reinvent, and to share. Any one of these, I feel, would be reason enough to take pen (or computer keyboard) in hand. She stresses that our experiences and ideas have value in and of themselves, that the important thing is not so much what we write about as that we write. She believes that the details, not just the major events, are important, and that the idea that "our life has not been interesting enough" is poppycock. Every life is interesting and worthy of reflection and recording. And she strongly recommends the practice of journal writing.

Ms. Styne compares the benefits of journal writing for the writer to the benefits of warm-up exercises for the athlete. The journal, she says, is the place where we do our practicing, where we warm-up our writing muscles (our ideas), where we get ourselves started. At first, what we wish to write about may not come easily. She urges us to sit and be patient. Journaling for only fifteen minutes a day, she feels, will get the flow started. But she is not rigid and admits to skipping days here and there when she writes not one word.

Writing, she tells us, can be a process of discovery, revealing our inner natures and teaching us things about ourselves that dwell beneath our conscious thoughts. Writing our true feelings instead of hiding them or pushing them away can be a great release. A lot of energy goes into repressing feelings, and I can attest to how much better I feel when I talk to myself on paper. I feel pounds lighter as I let loose my thoughts, and sometimes laugh when I read my rantings and ravings to others. And, especially, when I see a few heads nod in agreement, I realize none of it is as terrible as it seemed.

As we learn who we are, we begin to see that change is a constant in our lives. "Over the years," Ms. Styne quotes David Debin, co-founder of the Third Age Foundation, "I've been convinced that only when you bring forth that which is within you can you see who you truly are. And only when you see who you truly are can you begin the process of change, from what you are now to what you are meant to be."

Ms. Styne's excellent guidance is supplemented with a plethora of excellent ideas and examples of how to get us started: ideas for writing in one's journal, ideas for writing to discover oneself, ideas for writing to heal, as well as practical information about organizing one's work and getting it published. I can promise that this book does not disappoint.

Marlys Marshall Styne is a retired English teacher who rediscovered the joys and benefits of writing at age 73. Her previous book is a memoir: Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor (Infinity, 2006). She also writes two blogs: "Never Too Late!" and "Write Your Life!".

She lives in Chicago and volunteers at the Chicago Cultural Center.

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