Question: I love to read, and now feel I’d like to write. What do I need to know about writing

Answer: The ability to create as a writer – in fact, through any venue – depends on your perspective of what you see; an emotional connection to the subject that will motivate you; and your imagination. If you’ve ever had “writer’s block,” a period of time where words and thoughts do not seem to flow.....



I was in the audience wondering what to expect from the large group of retirees slowly gathering on stage. I’ve sat through many concerts by professionals and mature choral groups and have heard both triumphant and disappointing performances. This group, more than 100 strong, looked somewhat ragtag. Looks are deceiving, but they are not a sign of musical talent. The group settled in and began tuning their voices. Introductions were made, the conductor entered the hall and the audience hushed.



Tears streamed down my cheeks. I could not stop laughing. I was watching a Jim Carey movie and yes, he was “beating himself up.” It wasn’t the first time I’ve laughed until I cried while watching a funny movie. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Henny Youngman, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and many more comedians have given me the gift of laughter.


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connections and imagination, and thus they meet the Brunner criteria for developing the creative thought process. William could have communicated his thoughts in other ways: through the visual arts, musical experience, dance, crafts, theater or any other form of expression he chose. William’s choice was to use language to transmit his thoughts and beliefs. He felt comfortable with words.

You indicate your love of reading, so if you are widely read you already know that writers write about fictional and non-fiction subjects. You can create a novel or poetry or write for magazines. That is every author’s choice to make. The possibilities are enormous and the process changes for each genre and subject. Hone your research skills and learn to make detailed outlines focusing on the idea and sequence of events or the storyline and decide on the audience you will write for. You must decide if you want to tell a story, relate or solve a problem, write about yourself, create a biography, a children’s morality tale or investigate some other subject area.

Sometimes putting words to paper or on a computer is intimidating, especially to those new to writing. This intimidation can serve as a block to progress. Some beginners find it easier to use an oral approach. There are programs designed for the computer that automatically take spoken words and transfer them to the screen. You can also record your words on tape and later transcribe the story into written form. Both techniques can help a new writer transition more easily to putting ideas on paper.

Inventive approaches to writing frequently appear, some well suited for exploration by senior adults, such as a zine. Zines (short for magazines) offer opportunities for beginning and advanced writers and artists to informally publish their work. You simply write, draw, paint and design your published work, copy it, then cut it to size and either sew, glue, or staple the pages together. Collections of poetry, essays on any subject, illustrated stories, sayings or other creative experiences suited to reproduction on paper, once printed and bound, are shared within a chosen group. They are easily critiqued and re-written at will in a non-threatening learning experience for older adults.

If you believe you might need help with your writing, check with the Carnegie Center in Lexington, the OLLI program at the University of Kentucky, your local senior center or an adult education program. All have writing programs for older adults and some are free. Many independent and assisted living residences also have structured writing programs for residents.

Postscript: If I had not begun talking to William, truly listened and been open to his ideas, I never would have discovered an answer to this question. The importance of openness to new ideas and the lessening of the fear of meeting new people is an important key to developing creativity. My conversation with William provided me with motivation, an emotional connection to my subject and an imaginative approach to say what I believe to be important. I am grateful and deeply indebted to William for his openness and his thoughts and hope to meet him once again.

Question: I love to read, and now feel I’d like to write. What do I need to know about writing?

Answer: The ability to create as a writer – in fact, through any venue – depends on your perspective of what you see; an emotional connection to the subject that will motivate you; and your imagination. If you’ve ever had “writer’s block,” a period of time where words and thoughts do not seem to flow, you will know what I mean. The creative process will literally “stand still” until all components coalesce into a cohesive, rational reason to deeply explore an idea.

That all of these areas of experience must connect before creativity is born is not a new concept. It was advanced by Jerome Brunner, an eminent psychologist, as he explored the complexities of the human mind. This concept is most important as we delve into suitable ways to expand creative experiences for older adults. Here is an example:

I met William as we waited in line at McDonald’s. We sat at adjoining tables, continued talking about family and life in general and stumbled across writing as a joint interest. William, it turns out, has been writing for quite a while. He is unpublished; he writes for his own gratification. My wife and I listened raptly as he recited one of his “sayings,” as he called them, and we immediately recognized it as pure poetry.


How does an ordinary guy – someone who has worked all of his life and is still working while retired – find the time and motivation to produce exceptional creative poetry?

I know little about William except that he is hard working – retired but still working part time. He has strong family and church connections and strong ties to his religious heritage. William values education and proudly talks about his daughter and her quest for a Ph.D. He possesses an unbelievable vocabulary and a way of putting words and phrases together in thoughtful sequences of great spirituality and meaning. Since William writes basically for himself and reads what he writes only within a small circle of church and personal friends, he does not yet recognize how important or advanced his creative thinking skills are nor the impact his “sayings” might have on a larger audience.

The motivation to write comes from many sources. In this instance, I believe William’s motivation grows from a strong spiritual connection to God. Spiritual beliefs are often enabling motivators for individuals at all ages and levels of society. Such connections are highly personal in nature, involving powerful emotional


Donald Hoffman is the former director of the Donovan Scholars/ Council on Aging at the University of Kentucky and author of Arts for Older Adults: An Enhancement of Life.

more articles by donald hoffman