Sunday, February 21, 2016

Do Ambition and Creativity Decline With Age?

I am of an age where many friends and colleagues have, or are close to retiring, from their day jobs. They’re also pondering downsizing their homes or undergoing some other major life transition. This has created interesting and insightful conversations in my life. It’s also raised some poignant issues for me as a writer.

For over fifteen years, my goal was to write and publish five novels. I achieved this in 2013, then went onto publish a sixth novel in 2014, plus a novella in 2015. As someone who’s been writing for 35 years, I still have goals and dreams, but they don’t involve writing a bunch more novels. The truth is, I don’t have a number in mind because I’ve been asking myself how many more years I want to spend tackling full-length books? I’ve been wondering if it would be simpler, not to mention easier, to stick with novellas, short fiction, blogging, and book reviewing. I’ve been wondering if my creativity is slowly diminishing, and along with it my ambition.

I happened to come across a piece in ScientificAmerican that discusses the issue of creative peaks and whether we lose our creative productivity as we age. You can read the piece for more details (it’s not long) but the bottom line is that studies show that an aging brain does not necessarily cause a creative decline. Having said that, there are other factors that do cause creative peaks and declines in one’s life, depending on the type of creative pursuit and the age at which one started. If you think about it, though, there are plenty of creative folks whose best work occurred well into their 60’s and 70’s.

Although ambition is related to creative output for writers, and presumably other creative occupations, it is a different topic. It’s also part of those conversations I’ve had. Many colleagues who’ve published at least one book, no longer feel a burning desire to publish more. Sure, many of them do, but the question often becomes, now what?

It’s a good question. I’ve asked myself that a few times, and the answer is to keep writing because this is what I still love to do after all these years. Writing has kept me grounded, helped me through tough times, given me a purpose, enormous challenges, a reasonably sharp brain, and introduced me to lots of terrific people. So, is my ambition and creative output declining? Truthfully, it’s always come and gone in waves. The unambitious phases may grow longer, but one way or another, my writing will continue. It feels right, like how it was supposed to be, how it was meant to be.


Unknown said...

Very interesting thoughts. All you have to do is look at the people in the US running for the Democratic party. I'd have to say ambition and creativity don't decrease with age. My mom translated my first 3 novels into german and she's in her late 70s. The first sold to a German publisher. She had no idea her early 70s she's have a new career in her late 70s. Congrats on all your books. I say write more because I love to read your books!

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Kristina, and kudos to your mom for undertaking new pursuits. This is what I hope to do in my 70's!! I don't want my ambition or creativity to wane, if I can help it.