notebooks“The first 50 years are only a warm-up.” I read that heartening declaration in a magazine article years ago—and was skeptical.

At 75, I have some perspective on that. I know it’s true.

For years I had a dream—to write every day, to be published regularly, to earn enough money through my writing efforts to feed my word habit, even if I wasn’t yet getting a living wage. (I’m still working on that.) But I lacked the confidence/courage/ support to conjure the dream into reality.

I did self-publish two cookbooks, and a publisher with little marketing clout picked up the third. I helped write jingles for a children’s nutrition coloring book. But none of these pleasurable ventures paid the bills.

I made all kinds of excuses. At 40 I was pregnant with my youngest child and running a health food business with my first husband. I squeezed in my writing as a refuge from the hectic, often exhausting, pace (for instance, nursing the baby while a delivery truck for our health food store came at 8 a.m.). I wrote mostly about healthy foods and kept a journal about my pregnancy and my daughter’s first year, as well as writing a newsletter that made no money. I also wrote a weekly column called “Kitchen Nutrition” that paid a pittance, but it did put my name in print. That felt good!

At 50, when I was experiencing pre-divorce jitters and menopause at the same time, my focus was on surviving, financially and emotionally. Again, I wrote mostly rhymes to relieve the double-stress of my situation, often crying into a towel as the feelings of anger, frustration, and betrayal erupted onto lines on the paper.

By my 60s I was reinventing myself, since my divorce left me nearly broke after my ex-husband lost our family business after I moved out.  I went back to college for a second degree in Nutrition Education and moved to Seattle, where I lived with a friend and became a personal chef and cooking instructor. I wrote a couple of articles for local magazines, but was too busy surviving financially to do much writing. I loved Seattle, but I eventually returned to central Pennsylvania because of financial and family issues.

By 70 I was recently remarried. This required another move and another reinvention of my life. By then, on my son’s advice, I had just started a blog-turned-website,, as an outlet for my energies.  It has been a great emotional/educational outlet, but not a financial resource, because I did not want it to become a business with ads and mail-order. I wanted an unfettered, uncensored opportunity to write when I chose, without editorial parameters. Just my voice.

While I had claimed myself a “writer” at a New Year’s Eve yoga retreat center in 2000, the truth was that my cookbooks and other publications (a newsletter and computer primer for seniors that earned me a brief salary) never really earned enough money to make freelance writing my “career”; it was merely a hobby or a way to make extra money. I didn’t feel I had the right to stop substituting in the school system or edit other people’s theses and just write.

But when I turned 75 this past December, I realized that the hourglass has more sand in the bottom than in the top. I found myself persuaded by the idea that 50 might indeed be just a warm-up age—that it is possible, after divorce, widowhood, a failed business, and seven decades of life, to begin again.

Deciding to sail for the horizon has had a tsunamic effect on me. I seem to have a flood of ideas for articles nearly every day. I realize that I am more of a yacht (short pieces) than an ocean liner (novels). And nonfiction and rhymes are more my speed than fiction. Knowing what I feel comfortable writing about is part of the “side effects” of waking up to my particular skills and affirming myself as a writer.

And I no longer need to make money at my craft to believe I am a writer. The difference between my writing when I was younger and my work now is that back then I yearned to be “famous.” Now I just like the fact that people find my articles helpful. And I already have an audience: In the three months since I made my decision, three of my articles have been published in Women’s Voices for Change, another is scheduled for this Sunday, and I’ve begun sending my essays to magazines and other sites.

Now I can say that writing is the passion I want to pursue full throttle, and not worry so much about the money. I need to write, without guilt or apologies, just joy. Words are my oxygen, and “write now” I am breathing fine!

Image by sbpoet via Flickr.

Join the conversation

  • Roz Warren February 24, 2013 at 10:27 am

    ES, you’re as much fun to read as you are to walk and talk with!

  • Nicole February 23, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    Live your truth to the fullest. Is that not what we all strive for? As life splinters us in so many directions we lose focus on the things that breathe life into us. Bravo to you EllenSue! “Write on” and share your creativeness.

  • Eileen February 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    EllenSue, my beautiful mother, wise woman, your words and your life continue to inspire me! I love and admire the way you speak, write and live so openly and fearlessly from your heart. You help make me who I am today – more free, more happy, more focused on what matters most in life. You teach me so much about how to LIVE fully, completely, joyously for RIGHT NOW! As I approach 50 years young (!!), I see you as one of my important guides of light and love. Thank you beautiful wonderful amazing Mama Suki for everything you do and you are!

  • randi February 22, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Ellen Sue Jacobsons writings are very inspiring!!

  • Jackie Hanover February 22, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    This writer is on the mark. I am so happy to she is writing more and fulfilling her dreams. Look forward to seeing more of her work in print.

  • Susan Snyder February 21, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    How wonderful to be free and able to write from your heart & soul, and not feel the financial pressure. Look forward to reading more of your heartfelt stories!

  • Carol Knopf February 21, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    It’s so wonderful to see someone my age so upbeat. It’s such an inspiration to read what Ellen Sue writes and to know that she will keep right on doing it.

  • Cyndi Dinger February 21, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Enjoy the breaths and the sweet simple joys your writing brings you.

  • Rosie February 21, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Brava! You have always been a wonderful writer. I’m so happy you now feel the wind in your sails to sail freely into the future. I look forward to each journey with you!

  • Gaea Yudron February 21, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Thank you for this excellent exploration of your growth experiences. It is always inspiring to read about how other women take up the opportunities and challenges of later life. I have been continuing to re-invent myself, too. I am nearly done writing a musical revue on aging, give workshops on creative, conscious aging and am developing a one-woman show. Like you, my view of my creativity shifted in my 60s. I call this the pull out the stops stage of life. I will be 72 in April.

  • Janie Snyder February 21, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Very insightful and true

  • hillsmom February 21, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Congratulations…you’ve come a long way baby! (I forget who said that so can’t give credit.)