Tuesday, 19 April 2016

On being a pen-sioner by Veronica Zundel

Since last November I have been, though it seems hard to believe, a pensioner. With my state pension alone (I've put off taking my private one as I can't face the paperwork!), I am richer in personal terms than I've been for a long time. In fact I haven't had such a regular income for over 25 years, since I quit my editing job some months after getting married.

Now I have never made a real living from writing, and since every book I've  written is now out of print, I'm certainly not making one now. Before my marriage I  lived on half a salary plus parental help, and since then I have lived off my husband. Pace whoever  said 'No one but a fool ever wrote except for money', my motive was not financial survival, but a possibly deluded idea that my wisdom (or foolishness?) was worth sharing with the world.

Nevertheless, this sudden increase in fortune has done dangerous things to my motivation. Why struggle to carve out time for writing when I am getting paid every month for doing nothing? (and since I am paid to do nothing, I really ought to do it...). For the last two years I have been trying to write a family memoir mainly focused on my late brother, but apart from the emotional pain of digging up the past, I find it hard to convince myself that anyone would be interested, let alone pay to read it. And to complicate matters, in the last few months several unplanned things have happened: my son dropped out of university, my church decided to close, and we got new tenants in my late mother's house which necessitated clearing out everything, and in the process finding things that were emotionally hard to take, though they might later feed into the memoir.

As a result, lately I have hardly written anything except my monthly column, one set of Bible notes, the occasional poem and this blog. I seem, as I said recently on Facebook, to have retired by accident. But do writers retire? Surely writing is one of those things you can carry on doing into your dotage, and I hope I'm a good way from that yet. Artists don't have a sell-by date, so long as inspiration keeps flowing. Picasso, Pablo Casals, PD James, all went on creating or performing into their eighties or nineties, which gives me at least 30 years more unless I walk under a bus tomorrow.

For some of you, indeed, your retirement might be the moment when your writing really takes off, as you become free to dedicate more time to it (unless like me you indulged in late parenthood and still have offspring living with you...). Can we, perhaps, produce our best work when our bodies may be failing but our minds are full of experience and reflection? I would be interested to hear from the more mature among you, what your experiences are of being what I shall from now on call a 'pen-sioner'.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs at


  1. I have to say, all my retired friends and family seem to struggle just as much as I do to carve out time. Life has a way of filling gaps. I often think of it like having a new kitchen. You have all these big, empty, new cupboards and think you'll never have 'crowded' cupboards again. Then, before long, you can hardly get the doors shut ...

  2. Veronica, you raise some interesting questions. I am also trying to write about painful memories and find it much easier to do something else instead! If your story could help others it is worth writing it.
    I had a go at writing when my children had started school and I had some time. I soon became discouraged. However I began again at a time when most people would have been thinking about retiring. Apart from some writing I did for the WI about 20+ years ago and other odds and ends, I remain unpublished apart from my blogs, if they count.
    I do feel for your state of being churchless. Sue

  3. Thanks for this Veronica. I dream of retiring so I can write more, but am at least 6 years away from that currently. I'm sure it must be every bit as hard to find the motivation, time- or other- wise when you have retired.Also, since taking on a free-lance job, writing textbooks, with a tight deadline, I find it dismaying that in the beautiful weather, I am stuck indoors hammering away at my keyboard. I almost look forward to the teaching part of my week these days, despite its challenges. I've told myself that this proves I need more in my life than writing and even if I did retire, I would have to plan in other regular things. All the best with your writing. I love reading things written by you :)