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Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

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January 17, 2008 | 5 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor,
I have a serious dilemma facing me. I am a middle-aged, middle-management guy who has always dreamed of being an author. I have had a few articles published in trade magazines and people have told me I write well. I was just passed over for a promotion and am feeling fed-up and unappreciated at work. A growing part of me wants to quit my job, lock myself in a room and write the book I began three years ago. I can't seem to do both and I'm afraid life is passing me by. What advice would you offer a friend in my situation?


My advice would be to gather confidence to make the leap and the way to gather confidence is to start writing the book in the evening and on weekends and see if you can organize it and write a first chapter or two that are good enough to make you very enthusiastic about what comes next. What you're looking at is a long-shot gamble on yourself — hundreds of first books are written by middle-aged guys for every one that gets published — but it's not a bad bet, assuming you have gone down the road a little ways and feel confident about finishing the book and having something that people will want to read. Plenty of people have bet on themselves and come up winners, and it's a very satisfying bet to make. But be wise. And go at it like a military operation. Be disciplined, be secretive — don't talk about your work, and remember, when you're engaged in serious work, alcohol is not your friend.


The advice given to Bob from Cleveland, to keep working on weekends and evenings on that first book and DO NOT quit your job, is simply common sense and wise. Too many folks have had these passions who made a major career decision and deeply regretted it later down the road. Give this writing passion a chance, by working at it in your spare time without destroying your daily life and throwing your whole economic stability into a panic. Try it this way, you may even like it so well that you may very well become a full time writer and accomplished author.

Re: Advice to prospective gambler: Go for it!

I wrote my first novel in my fifties. I agree with everything GK says, save one item. Don't be secretive! Early in the process--when I had a vague idea of the story but doubted my ability to tackle and complete a work of fiction--I told everyone within earshot that I was writing a novel. I mean, the bank teller, checkout clerk, and strangers at parties. Call it idiocy or false bravado, but it kept me honest. And it kept me writing. It took me a few years--between divorcing, beating the bushes for work to subsidize my chocolate habit, and starting a new life--but I did it. You can too.

Well, I did it--I now have 2 novels published, but I'm really wondering if it's worth it, as they haven't been doing well at all and my royalty checks are a mere pitance not even worth mentioning. So I definately agree with the avice not to quit your job. I still have to work part time and depend on my Social Security checks, and in my free time, it seems I'm spending all my time promoting, which prohibits any more wrting. I wonder if mr. G.K. has any advice for me.
Of course both of my novels are Christian fiction, or more accurately, evangelistic fiction, as they are meant to reach non-Christians. At least that was my purpose in writing them, but perhaps it was just wishful thinking.

I am a great fan and recently found myself listening at home to CD's of "The Lake" with Garrison and found myself, as usual,moving toward a task and ending up distracted by yet another unrelated activity only to return to the first mission much later. (The fate of those diagnosed with A.D.D.) It was during this time that I was struck with the thought that the stories of Lake Wobegone seem somehow much like my life and it's disjointed nature. Is it possible that Garrison is A.D.D.? I should ADD (no pun intended) that many very talented people are blessed with this gift. At least I see it as such.

Just wondering, in Cleveland.

I had heard erroniously that you were having a music writing contest for people over sixty. Hey! What's so funny. I'm here to tell you that life doesn't stop after thirty,sixty, or even eighty. I'm still writing music and plays and that's what keeps you vital( not necessarily young). Why NOT have a contest for people over sixty. There's a whole bunch of us out here--still actively creating and living vital lives in spite (or maybe because of our age) I hope someone on your staff pays attention to this. You babyboomers are reaching older age and we can tell you a lot about being vital.
An ex Minnesotan still kicking at 81+ in La Jolla, California

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