Writing: An Ageless Endeavor

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Grandma Moses is an inspiration for any creative person. Recently, I read about her life and found that some of the traits she possessed are important for writers as well. Let’s examine a few.

She was a flexible learner. Her first art form was embroidery. Apparently, arthritis forced an end to that. But her sister, seeing Grandma Moses’s creative eye and the need to express it, suggested she take up painting. She was in her 70s at the time. What if she hadn’t been willing to adjust and learn?

Ask yourself: Am I willing to persevere? To continue learning and growing in my writing craft until I reach my dream of being a published author?Grandma-Moses-9416251-1-402

It took time to develop her style. Her earliest work more closely resembled primitive art. It was over time and lots of paintings that she developed her unique folk style. It’s rare that a writer’s first book is ever published, much less becomes a best seller. Realistically, your first one or two completed books may never get a contract.

Have you practiced writing, writing, writing until you have discovered your own voice and style, perhaps even the right genre for you? If so, those first books were a success. Blogging is another practice field on which your voice and style can blossom into life.

She painted what she knew. She was a farm wife, a country dweller at heart. And she was true to her heart’s passion on canvas. Her paintings tell us much about who she was.

Don’t get lured into writing whatever is commercially popular at the time. Rather, stick to what you are passionate about, what is in your heart. That is where you will find your best writing, the kind that reaches deep into readers’ hearts.

She was industrious. At any time in her 70s, 80s, and 90s, Grandma Moses could have folded her wrinkled hands in her lacy lap and settled into a matriarchal life of leisure. Certainly into her 80s, sales of her paintings had made her financially able to retire. I have to conclude that she avidly continued to paint for the love of it. In those thirty years, she painted 1,600 canvases.

Ask yourself, have I found my sweet spot, that is, characters, genre, time period, or the topic I’m most knowledgeable and passionate about? That is the package that will continue to energize you and keep you coming back to the keyboard for the sheer exhilaration of creating more.

She seized opportunities. When Grandma Moses put her paintings in the local drug store window at $2 to $5 each, she had no way of knowing that an art collector passing through town would see them, buy them all, and drive to her home to purchase more. A year later three of her paintings were on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She began having her own exhibits in big cities like New York and Washington D.C. Imagine that…a whole new world opening up for her…in her late 70s…and she went for it!  

If you were to see an opportunity to write in a different format than your original plan, would you be open to it? For example, would you be willing to adjust from writing a full-length book to writing a Love Inspired or category fiction for the opportunity to be published? Would you be willing to collaborate with another nonfiction author on your favorite topic?  

She was a good marketer of her work. Grandma Moses had samples of her home baked bread, cake, and prize-winning preserves on a table at her Gimbels department store art exhibit. The marketing effort was true to who she was, and it grabbed the attention of art collectors from around the world. After her death, her art was still being exhibited in other countries.

What creative marketing efforts can you initiate that enhance your brand and your current book to attract your audience?

You are never too old to pursue your writing dream if you are industrious and can show a publisher you can write compelling books prolifically. Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her mid-sixties when her first book was published, as was Frank McCourt when Angela’s Ashes, his first memoir, was published. After being rejected by several publishers, James Hale of Macmillan took a chance on Mary Wesley’s first novel, with an unusual heroine. She was in her early 70s.

On the flip side, you never are too young to begin writing. Alec Greven published his first children’s book, How to Talk to Girls, a New York Times bestseller, when he was nine years old. By the time he was eleven, he had published four more books that are available in 17 countries. It was a joy to see a number of teens in attendance at the Writing for the Soul Conference last February and an adolescent conferee at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in August.

Which traits resonate most with you as ones you also possess? Which traits do you struggle to achieve or maintain? Were you inspired by other authors who began later or earlier in life?

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62 Comments

  • Anne Love says:

    I love the picture of her! She’s got a little twinkle in her eye. I think it’s her inner passion. I’m in love with story. As a concept, it fuels my passion. I think when people read a book, or see some art form, and meet the creator of it, they long to connect with that passion.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Anne, that was my hope in this post: to encourage and, in your words, “connect with [Grandma Moses’s] passion” in order to spark our own. I hope her story has fueled yours today.

  • Kate says:

    What an inspirational post! I love your encouragement to develop our style and to write what we are passionate about. I needed that advice today. Thank you.

  • “What creative marketing efforts can you initiate that enhance your brand and your current book to attract your audience?”

    I am running a Doodle Race (simple drawing contest) for tweens, their parents, and children’s ministry workers on my blog to attract audience for my forthcoming Doodle Devotion books. (The prizes? Zonderkidz will publish two randomly selected doodles in the books.)

    I am also offering a link back to any authors who submit to the race.

  • Jeanne T says:

    Mary, what an encouraging post! I began writing in my forties, which is late for some, but hearing more about Grandma Moses’ story makes me feel like a young ‘un. :)

    I’d like to think I am teachable, open to the help of those more knowledgeable than I on the writing road.

    Seizing the opportunities can be a bit challenging because it requires courage to step out there. But, that’s a good one for me to seriously begin working on.

    I loved this post, Mary!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jeanne, the art exhibits in New York and Washington D.C. had to be a little scary for Grandma Moses too. But she may have made it easier for herself because she didn’t try to be something she wasn’t. She remained true to herself and comfortable in her own shoes. That may be the secret: people connected with her because everything about her…her art and her approach to it, her presence, her marketing…all consistently communicated her heart and her passion. She shared her true self and people loved the purity and simplicity of it.

      • She “consistently communicated her heart and her passion.” And did it in a pure and simple way.

        I’m so quick to over complicate the writing process. Grandma Moses is a great example of sharing authenticity through her art form, and also sharing herself. Thanks for this inspirational post Mary.

  • Micky Wolf says:

    Mary, how blessed we are as writers to have you all at Books & Such providing us with such a wealth of encouragement and inspiration–and practical information as well. This has been a most amazing week of posts for sure! :)

    I am going to spend some time pondering the questions you pose. While I have some insight about how I would answer them, they are definitely providing good fodder for further clarity about exactly which traits God has gifted to me.

    Grandma Moses has been an inspiration for a long time as the whole aging thing can distract me, on occasion, into believing it is too late and I am too old. There, I said it. :)

    Thanks again for your uplifting words!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Great, Micky. Be encouraged. Sometimes God wants to grow our wisdom and insights through years of life experiences in preparation to write with depth of heart and passion. It’s never too late to write when you approach it from that perspective. Maximize the traits He has entrusted to you and be yourself. That’s a big lesson I see from Grandma Moses.

  • Good morning, Mary.

    Wow. This resonated with me, BIG TIME “have I found my sweet spot, that is, characters, genre, time period, or the topic I’m most knowledgeable and passionate about? That is the package that will continue to energize you and keep you coming back to the keyboard for the sheer exhilaration of creating more.”

    I love to write humour. I seem to have a weensy bit of skill making people smile. My brain interprets a vast bulk of what I hear in a way that makes me smirk. No, NOT the serious parts of life, that’s when I cry like a supermodel when she gets to eat fries.

    But humour is part of me, but it’s not my passion, it doesn’t drive me, it doesn’t make me lay awake at night, pondering life’s harshness and the cruelty of one man to another.
    Humour doesn’t have ghosts.

    The Long Walk of the Navajo has thousands.

    I will work myself into the ground taking care of my family, my friends and then, the ghosts of thousands who had no say, no rights, who saw their wives and children taken to be sold, who died trying to find firewood, who walked literally hundreds and hundreds of miles across the desert on the whims and orders of people who HATED them.

    There, that is my passion. I will do whatever it takes to bring the story to fruition. I will listen to my Navajo Elders who are descended from the prisoners who survived, and some who hid safely away. I’ll listen to my agent and flex until it hurts.

    Yes, I love to make people smile.

    But I’m obsessed with this story.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jennifer, no one can deny your passion and unique style. You are true to yourself and use your humor to uplift and loyally encourage others. These traits will serve you well in your writing. For instance, your scenes containing a bit of humor in your story can be a balm of relief for the reader after an especially tragic scene. Especially so when readers deeply connect with the characters.

  • Grandma Moses is new to me, so I googled her. What wonderful talent, and what wonderful lessons to learn from her life! Mary, I so appreciate your comments about being open to opportunity. I am most definitely passionate about my current completed ms. Many months and difficult emotions went into that story. But at the ACFW conference, the seed of another opportunity was planted. So what am I passionate about? Words and using them however the Lord would lead.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Meghan, I’m sure there were personal discoveries about yourself as you invested those difficult emotions into your story. That is important insight into what God may be putting on your heart to write. And aren’t you encouraged to realize your trait of recognizing new opportunities?

  • Thanks for introducing us to Grandma Moses. I had not heard of her before. I really like that she was true to who she was. That is so incredibly important. The market could try to turn us one way or another, but God gave ME a story to tell. I can be flexible in the way it’s told, but ultimately, the heart of my story (stories!) cannot change. I think my stories will always come from who I am, the things I love, the things I’ve learned, especially as they relate to the ultimate Storyteller who has written my story. And I am glad to know that not only is that alright…it’s necessary.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      “…but ultimately, the heart of my story (stories!) cannot change.” So true, Lindsay, because they should come from your unique heart and passion. That is what will connect with your readers’ hearts.

  • Wow, Mary, so many great nuggets in this post. Most of all, the inspiration to keep striving toward our best work. Thank you for sharing!

  • Thanks so much, Mary.

    I just printed this off to mail to my 66 year old sister. She’s always wanted to paint, and for the first time in her life has picked up a brush. I know it will inspire her!

    May God bless you in all of your creative endeavors, colored or not.

    Wanda

  • Laura Frantz says:

    Wonderful post, Mary. All of it resonates but after writing ten or so novels thus far, some which are my passion and some for the market(not all published), I especially second this:

    “Don’t get lured into writing whatever is commercially popular at the time. Rather, stick to what you are passionate about, what is in your heart. That is where you will find your best writing, the kind that reaches deep into readers’ hearts.”

    Thanks for this timely reminder!

    • Laura, I appreciate your honesty from the published side of things. Do you have ways of engaging and mustering up motivation when you write novels that may not be your passion?

      • Laura Frantz says:

        Jenni, Love your thoughtful comments. Since I’m something of a perfectionist, I keep to a pretty high standard regardless of my level of passion for the particular story I’m writing. I have a fear of letting my readers down. That is great impetus for giving the story all I’ve got! But let me tell you, writing without passion is work whereas writing with passion is like dessert. And that’s sure to spill over to the reader. When I write with passion, the magic is inherently there. Otherwise the story might be mechanically good but something, that little spark of joy and life, is missing. And savvy readers can probably tell the difference.

        I also do a lot of praying as I write. That’s an inspirational well that thankfully never runs dry :).

  • The way I look at it, Grandma Moses’ life was the beginning of her apprenticeship to her art. She had to live those decades to develop the eye and hand and heart that animated her paintings.

    It’s like that for me – I wanted to write much, much earlier, but I was lucky enough to realize that the voice and focus simply needed time to develop, and that process could not be forced.

    While the stories were ‘germinating’, so to speak, I did write – video scripts on art history, and technical papers for scientific journals. They honed the craft.

    When I reached the point of being able to write stories – and that point was clearly defined, specific to a date and time – the process was easy. The words flowed, and the rewriting labor was not a burden.

    I don’t wish the whole thing had come to fruition earlier, because the work that came from it would have been different. I like what I write, I like the voice and the faith whence it comes.

    The price in time was worth paying.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      “The way I look at it, Grandma Moses’ life was the beginning of her apprenticeship to her art. She had to live those decades to develop the eye and hand and heart that animated her paintings.” Exactly, Andrew!

      Thanks for sharing your experience. It will encourage other.

  • I appreciate your mention of the finding the sweet spot in our writing. Over the last few years, I’m drawing closer to it. Combining interests I’ve had all my life, and the state I’ve lived in all my life gives me a perspective into pockets of history that I want to share with others.
    I hadn’t thought about adjusting my stories to make them more accessible for LI or genre romance. But my CP has, so it’s a conversation that can be expanded.
    Mary, is writing for LI or LIH a promising possibility for an author trying to break into CBA? Is it common to see authors that debut in this way transition to full-length novels in future?

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jenni, writing for LI and LIH is a very good place to begin your writing career in CBA. They are shorter books to write, and you receive good editorial help. These shorter romances is how Debbie Macomber got started.

  • Lori says:

    This was a good post today!

    I would say that I am a flexible learner. I’ve gotten better with age a being aware at opportunities and seizing them. I don’t think I am as industrious as everyone may think. My worst trait is taking time to develop my style but I think I finally have. I try really hard to be patient with myself and with others however I want everything now. In my case patience is definitely not a virtue but I am trying.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Lori, speaking from experinece, God has provided many opportunities to practice patience. I’m sure he knew I would need that trait in publishing. Same for you?

      • Lori says:

        Yes. You got me. God has definitely provided me the opportunities for a lot of things including patience. I’m probably being hard on myself again.

  • Your post was a real pick-me-up on a day that I needed to be reminded it’s not too late to pursue writing dreams. Thank you, Mary.

  • Sue Harrison says:

    Thank you, Mary. This encouragement came on a day when I truly needed it!

  • My Grandma Newkirk also lived on a farm. She loved to paint and was very good at it but sadly – she never got paid for her work.

    She painted mostly – the barn, some picket fences and the outhouse.

  • I love that she didn’t let fear keep her from pursuing her passion! How many people, at the age of 70, would be willing to have an art show in New York City, especially someone who lived on a farm her whole life? I think the thing that resonates the most with me is her passion for what she knew. She took her love for her farm life and put it on canvas in such a way that others started to look at farm life differently. For many years I had a hard time telling people I write stories set in my hometown in central Minnesota. I had a lot of people look at me funny and many even said: “Why? What’s there to write about here?” But I want people to see this part of the world the way I see it. I want them to look through my eyes and heart and see the beauty I see. I believe there is an abundance to write about! And one of my greatest pleasures is when someone reads something I write and they say: “I had no idea.” Or, “I can’t believe I never knew this before.” Or, the best I’ve heard: “Wow, I have a new appreciation for our history.” Now I’m excited to tell people I write stories set in central Minnesota. It opens up conversation for me to share my passion.

    • Gabrielle, your comments about Minnesota echo my heart about my home state of California, but with a little twist. Sometimes the focal point on the golden state’s past can be narrow.
      I want to climb into a redwood tree and shout, “There’s more to the history of California than missions and miners.” It’s a privilege to seek out semi-hidden portions of California’s past and bring them forward to intrigue and teach.
      We can take our “love for __ and put it on canvas (paper)in such a way that others start to look at __ differently”. What goes in the blank spots is unique to each one of us.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Gabrielle, staying true to who you are, your appreciation for your heritage, and your passion for others to see what you see is paying off in the quality and charm of your stories.

  • Lynn Hare says:

    Taking time to develop style resonates with me. I’ve been blogging for 2.5 years and have seen a voice emerge: a mixture of humor and serious prayer and playfulness. Like sampling a coffee house with a unique blend,readers can get a taste of my style and words. And my first grandchild was just born – a boy, Logan, so I’m a grandma, too! Yay!

  • Thank you, Mary, for a beautifully encouraging post! I’ve been an admirer of Grandma Moses for some time and cross-stitched a painting design of hers some years ago that still hangs on my wall. She is an example I often look to when I feel tired and too old, even though I am beginning writing at a younger age than she began painting. I have been feeling tired, so your reminder may help me find the energy I need to continue.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Angela, I’m glad you are encouraged. Perhaps you are tired because you haven’t yet found your sweet spot for writing where your real passion lies. Like Laura Frantz commented above: “…writing without passion is work whereas writing with passion is like dessert.”

  • Mary, I love, love, love this post. I have worked diligently on my devotional book. At a recent writers conference, two editors and one agent requested my proposal. Yet, upon returning home I realize this is not the book I want to publish, at least not the first one. I’ve struggled with this, thinking I don’t have enough time left to not take advantage of the present opportunity. However, your post encourages me to take the time I need, perfect the craft of memoir writing and pen the stories that live in my heart.

  • Thank you for this inspiring post, Mary. I too had to stop handcrafts – cross stitching in my case – because of arthritis. Instead of painting though, typing is keeping my joints nimble and the pain at bay. I know of one military policeman who hooks rugs to keep his fingers nimble, and I’ve heard of several professional football players who knit for the same reason.

    I really like what you said about writing what you’re passionate about because the stories from the heart are the most satisfying to the author as well as the reader. I firmly believe the reader knows the difference although they may not be able to put their feelings into words and tell you why they like/didn’t like a certain book. But they’ll remember the feeling the next time they see your name.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Absolutely, Anita. When an author isn’t passionate about what he or she writes, the depth of emotion just isn’t available to express in the writing. How then can an author expect her stories to grab the hearts of readers?

  • This article is encouraging to me because I am over 50 and just now, with an empty nest, finding the time to write. I’ve always been passionate about books and writing. I’ll never find enough hours in the day to read all the books waiting for me and to write all the stories hidden in my heart. I’ve learned to schedule writing time in the morning and reading time in the evening, and to forget the mindless television. I struggle with marketing my work but I’m learning. Setting up a blog was the first step. Thank you for sharing.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      I’m glad it encouraged you, Sheila. So your heart’s storehouse is full of stories you are passionate to write; you’ve waited patiently while raising your family; and you’ve experienced LIFE. Now is your time. Go for it!

      Yes, it’s important to attract an audience at the same time you are writing. Interesting blog posts, Facebook and, Twitter entries, and Pinterest boards too, if you can manage all of them, should have something to do with the kind of stories you write and the genre you have chosen. They should be directed toward readers, not other writers or industry people. Have fun developing relationships with those who visit your author website and comment on your social media sites.

  • Judith Robl says:

    I love the fact that you are never too old. My devotional gift book was published just four months short of my 72nd birthday. And I’m working on more writing.

    My grandmother was fond of saying “You’ll never learn any younger.” She was learning something new, even going to classes in the last few months before her death at age 79.

    So for those of you in your fifties and sixties, pull out all the stops and go for it. It’s a wasted day when you don’t learn something new or acquire another level of skill.

    Thank you for this post, Mary. It’s great to be reminded that you are never too old.

  • lisa says:

    Great encouragement, thank you.

  • Last week I met an author who just published her first book and was touring. She asked me if I’d completed a book yet, and I told her I’d written five.

    I’ve done the entire process from planning to editing my stories. Then I move on to the next story, and I learn more about the craft each time.

    She looked at me funny and shared she’d only worked on her one story. I kinda felt crazy about my process, but you’ve given me confidence that my way is okay.

    Thanks so much for inspiring me today!

  • Thanks for this post, Mary, as a reminder that there’s still hope for those whose wasted part of life is measured in decades, not years.

    Of course, to throw a little rain on this parade, Grandma Moses was the extreme outlier in a solid set of statistics that say older people have more difficulty being commercially successful in all the arts than do younger people.

  • Jenny Leo says:

    At 88 my mom has taken up watercolor painting, and she’s very good! Thanks for the reminder that we’re never too old–or too young–to practice our craft and do what brings us joy.

  • Jaime Wright says:

    Someone asked me the other day what I would do if I never get published. “Write!” I answered. :) I love your review of her industrious nature. When you love your art, you celebrate it, daily–even if never recognized! Wonderful post, Mary!

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