Delay. Delay. Delay. Some say it’s the essence of dramatic writing.
Unlike expository writing, where the first sentence of each paragraph pretty much sums up the point to be made, each sentence in dramatic writing leads the reader to the next sentence so that the reader is forced to read on — a process they enjoy as tension builds and they are rewarded for their patience with a satisfactory surprise, rant, interesting idea, twist or image.
Just as sometimes an extension of time may be a good legal move, delay in the construction of a narrative is a good thing, but today my message is “don’t delay.”
A faithful reader, Eugene A. Schoon, a partner at Sidley, Austin LLP, recently alerted me to a first novel published by the federal judge he clerked for some 30 years ago. It’s not surprising that the judge, like so many lawyers, has a story to tell. After all, that is the raison d’etre of Amicus Scriptor.
Still, it was a bit of a surprise to learn that Judge Ruggero Aldisert of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals retired from the bench this year at the age of 94 and published his first novel, a historical legal thriller, “Almost the Truth: A Novel of the Forties and the Sixties.” available on Amazon.com. (He previously was the author of 30 legal books and articles, including the influential “Opinion Writing.”)
“Almost the Truth” draws on Aldisert’s experience as a veteran of World War II and his experience on the bench.
“The story drew me in,” Schoon said, “especially the flashbacks to World War II and the action behind enemy lines. Although I found myself thinking about the judge and his charming wife, Agatha, as the main characters unfolded, anyone who likes a good thriller would enjoy this one.”
When Schoon wrote to me about the book, he said, “When I read your columns, I feel guilty sometimes because I don’t spend time writing, but I realize now that there is still time.”
So now I must thank Gene for today’s topic: Even if you’ve delayed writing your first novel or story or poem until today, the message inherent in Judge Aldisert’s publication must be, “it’s never too late.”
We’ve all read about famous authors who published their first novels at advanced ages, and it never ceases to be inspiring:
In their 40s: James Michener, Henry Miller, Elisabeth Strout.
In their 50s: Sue Monk Kidd, Richard Adams, Alex Haley, Annie Proulx.
In their 60s: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frank McCourt.
In their 70s: Norman McLean, Harriet Doeer.
In their 80s: Jamil Ahmad.
In their 90s: Judge Aldisert.
On the sadder side, there are writers who didn’t live to see their work published. Stieg Larsson and John Kennedy Toole are two notable posthumously published authors who come to mind. But they did write, which is the most important thing.
Forty-two is the average age at which authors of fiction are first published. You, as a lawyer-turned-author, are not average. So even if you’ve passed that milestone, what you must remember is that it’s never too late to start your writing project — and, God willing, to finish it.
Some people may say they don’t like to start projects they can’t finish. But you never know, do you? Some people have trouble finishing a first work for fear they won’t have another story in them. They will. But they most assuredly won’t have a second idea until they’ve finished the first.
You have to start in order to finish. Some people may think it a waste of time to write something which might not get published, or be publishable, but it’s no more a waste of time than any other hobby you enjoy without aspirations of going pro.
Others may feel the world doesn’t need another novel, story or poem. Romantics will say that the world does need your special and unique story, but they’re wrong. The world doesn’t need your story any more than the world needs another lawyer.
But you have this idea that you want to write — otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this column — and you keep letting things interfere with starting, finishing, publishing.
Admirable as it is that Judge Aldisert first published at 94, do you really want to take that chance?
It’s never too late to start — until it is.