Finish your novel at any age

It’s always thrilling for me to see someone finish a writing project, particularly when I’ve been on the journey with them, from within the trenches of the Writer’s Circle. We cheer each other on, during the hard days and the easier days, so it feels like a success for all of us when we see someone finish a project and reach their goal.

Of course, there are various milestones for “finishing” too — finishing the outline, finishing the first draft, revising the first draft, working on the second draft, submitting it for publication, etc. etc. In the Writer’s Circle, we make a point to celebrate all the milestones we can. It’s a must on a long-haul project like a book or screenplay.

In this case, we’re celebrating the success of one of our writers who has finished the first draft of her novel at age 74!

Fredrica Parlett

I was particularly excited when Fredrica Parlett joined the Writer’s Circle. I know and have worked with her talented daughter, Isabel, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Fredrica on occasion here in Berkeley as a result. What excited me about Fredrica’s project was her passion and commitment to her novel — even when the self-doubts would creep in, Fredrica kept up a steady stream of writing with the support of the Writer’s Circle.

It’s been thrilling to see her return to and build on the first chapter she wrote of her novel four years ago in a class and had then set aside, first writing 20,000 words in her first three sessions in the Circle, and climbing steadily over time, bit by bit, day by day, to the milestone of completing her first draft this March after 18 months of work.

A self-described “writer, searcher, and hyperactive senior,” Fredrica has dreamed of writing a novel for a long time, and with the support of the Writer’s Circle, has made it a reality. We’ve applauded her and encourged her to keep going, even as she’s said in her dry, witty tone, “I just hope I can finish it before I die.” As someone with long-lived relatives (the women in her family tend to live into their hundreds), we never doubted she would manage it, but we’ve been so happy to see her get there nonetheless.

I thought you might enjoy reading a little bit more about her project and her journey up to this point — as well as what comes next — in her own words:

Fredrica, thanks for being here. Would you first tell us about your writing project — what’s it about?

I am writing a “literary” novel, which follows the lives of two protagonists in 1950’s America: a 16-year-old dyslexic boy, who is misdiagnosed as mentally retarded and psychotic, and the 36-year-old psychoanalyst who tries to save him from a lobotomy.

Tell us about yourself and your dream of writing — how long has this been a dream for you?

As a child I used to lie in bed and make up stories, mainly to do with the Lone Ranger as my father, who misunderstood me, but then I would vindicate myself by rescuing him from horrible bandits or some other dire situation. I wrote short stories from about the age of 9, mostly about talking animals, such as duckbill platypuses. I also wrote poems, also about animals. I’ve always been interested in language and writing clearly. Only after my second child left home for college, did I start thinking about writing a novel. I had one underway, which wasn’t going well, when my house and all its contents burned down in the Oakland Hills Fire in 1991. After the fire I abandoned hopes of writing a novel and devoted myself to studying classical piano.

In 2009, I saw an advertisement for an online writing course given through Stanford University (my alma mater) entitled “Beginning a Novel.” I took the course, the aim of which was to write the first chapter of a novel. That was the beginning of this story, but it lay fallow until I joined the Writers’ Circle at the suggestion of my daughter, who works with Jenna. I have always been drawn to novels rather than short stories.

How does it feel to have completed the first draft of your novel at age 74?

It feels wonderful. I have had to deal with all kinds of self-doubt and to learn to really prioritize my time, because I am easily pulled into duties and obligations. I had several medical issues last year also — amongst which were foot surgery and an appendicitis, as well as deaths in the family. It seems incredible that I actually wrote 170,000 words telling this story.

What have you learned about your writing process from participating in the Writer’s Circle?

I was surprised to find that the support of the Writer’s Circle made all the difference between writing and not writing. Reporting in to the site every evening has been, I think, the most important influence. If a day is slipping away with no writing, I get more determined to do some in order to be able to report progress.

But the other tools of the Circle have helped me as well — reading about others’ difficulties and successes, commenting on them (which is recognizing I have the same difficulties), attending the coaching calls where we have in-depth discussions about all our questions, and certainly participating in the group writing sprints — knowing the others are devoting that same hour to writing is a great boost. Sharing information about books and websites addressing the craft of writing and publishing is invaluable. The fact that the other members are much younger doesn’t seem to be a problem, even if I roll my eyes occasionally at their new age jargon. They are a serious and dedicated group. All these contacts keep me motivated and focused.

What were the biggest challenges you faced before joining the Circle?

I was always subject to the tyranny of the “urgent.” A large house, family, friends — and piano lessons — all of which were rewarding but did not fulfill the dream to write a novel.

You left the Circle for a time and came back to join us again. What did you notice about your writing habit while you were away and what have you noticed since you’ve come back? What difference has participating in the Circle made for you?

When I was not in the Circle, I noticed that the habit of putting everything else first began creeping back in. I missed the pressure of being accountable — stating my writing goal for the next day and trying to honor that. And I’m very prone to discouragement or negative self-statements such as, “I’m much too old to be undertaking this huge endeavor.”

Coming back, I immediately felt the power of the support. My total writing time increased dramatically, almost without my noticing it. (I have always set doable goals and then been surprised when I exceeded them — another trick learned in the Writer’s Circle.)

What would you say to others who dream of writing a novel in their later years, and what advice do you have for other writers?

If you dream of writing a novel, don’t put it off any longer. The quality of my life has greatly improved from this undertaking, so I have profited, whether it ever is published or not. How has it improved? I look around and within myself for inspiration. I channel my tendency to worry about the world and the scratches on my hardwood floor into worrying about the fate of my dear protagonists, about whom I could talk to you for hours, without you realizing they aren’t alive right now. We all know how hard it is to establish a new habit, especially one that supports our inherent creativity. That is what the Writer’s Circle can do.

What’s next for the novel and for your writing?

I am now in the revision process, which demands an entirely new set of skills. Fortunately, many of the Circle’s writers are in the revision process also. One of them recommended a book, which is helping me raise the stakes, increase the tension, and make ruthless cuts. I do Julia Cameron’s morning pages every day so that the words keep flowing. I am attempting to rewrite certain scenes in a much more dramatic, intuitive tone. Very exciting. I have the “soft” goal of having the novel ready to send to a publisher or to self-publish on Amazon by the end of this year. I am planning a road trip to Southern California in the Fall to experience directly the places in my novel, even Highland Mental Hospital in San Bernadino, which is still operating. Beyond that, who knows?

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

I want to stress that setting a realistic daily goal, even 15 minutes a day, and reporting in every day, so that one really begins to believe one is a writer, is really invaluable.

Thank you, Fredrica!

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writerscirclepostJoin The Writer’s Circle. One of the things we love about the Writer’s Circle is that it helps you put the focus on your writing first. If you need a nudge in that regard, the next session starts on soon, and we’d love to have you join us. You can find out more and register at http://JustDoTheWriting.com

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Your turn

If you’d like to celebrate with Fredrica, please leave a note for her in the comments on the blog. And if YOU’RE dreaming of writing a novel (or book or screenplay or ??), tell us about it too and we’ll cheer you on!

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

Comments

  1. Congrats Fredrica! Look forward to reading your book. We can do anything at any age…

    Giulietta “Julie” Nardone

  2. This interview is so inspiring. I particularly liked hearing about what writing meant to you as a child, Fredrica, and how small goals and support made such a difference in your process. And I love how you sum up your book so succinctly, in one sentence! I’m still working on that. :) Huge congrats to you, Fredrica, and thanks for this, Jenna!

  3. Rikard Bergquist says:

    Wow! What a great achievement! Congratulations Fredrica, you’ve set a wonderful example for all of us struggling writers trying to get through the first draft. A truly inspiring post, thank you Jenna.

  4. Jenna – Thank you for featuring Fredrica on your blog. I am looking forward to reading her book! As a fellow writer in the circle, I love the way Fredrica writes her daily notes! I am sure the book will be far more compelling!

  5. Go Mom!

    I am very proud of you, especially since I remember all those years that this was a dream. Very inspiring!

    Love, Isabel

  6. Christine says:

    Many CONGRATULATIONS, Fredrica!

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us and being such a integral part of the Writer’s Circle community. It’s always a joy to hear you on the calls and I’ve always found your insights and contributions so valuable. I wasn’t aware of the challenges you faced on your journey — house fires and the like — you are such an exceptional example of the importance of ‘getting back up’ and getting on with the dream. Many congratulations again – and I look forward to seeing what else the future holds for you with this project and others!

  7. Bonnie Jay says:

    Congratulations on finishing your novel, Fredrica! My great aunt, who was like my second mother, started her painting career at 65, and by the time she was in her 80’s she was selling paintings to galleries as far away as Japan. She used to say that it didn’t matter when you started doing something you wanted to do, as long as you didn’t give up. I wish you the best as you work your way through revisions!

  8. Sarah Newman says:

    Congratulations, Fredrica! Thank you for sharing your inspiring journey with us. Your childhood memory of making up stories made me smile and recall my own writerly origins. I love that you noted how the power of the support of the Circle and the accountability of reporting your progress daily has helped you achieve this tremendous accomplishment. You’re a wonderful inspiration for us all to keep striving to reach our goals. How wonderful to share in this milestone with you! Wishing you all the best with the revision process!

  9. Rita says:

    Big congratulations, you are inspiring!! Beautiful achievement!!

  10. This is very inspiring! A beautiful post, and surely, I will keep reading until I can see no more. Thank you for this advice!

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