Not Writing Is Easier Than It Used To Be

By John Gilstrap

When I first started down the path of what would become a long writing journey, the act of sitting down and making stuff up was a guilty pleasure. Our son was young, I had a fulltime job–in fact, I owned the company–and life was packed with semi-mandatory activities. When I carved out 15 or 30 or 45 minutes of writing time, I had to be focused and efficient.

Those stolen moments mostly came in the evenings. At home, they were wedged between our son’s bedtime and the final hours of the day when Joy and I would settle in for an hour or two of evening television. On travel (I spent most of my Big Boy Job years as a road warrior), I would write my way through dinner, often not leaving my table or barstool until the staff was doing their final cleaning before locking the doors. This explains why large portions of my first drafts were handwritten. (I think it’s rude to clack on computer keys while the people around me are trying to enjoy an evening of dining and conversation.)

In those very early days–pre-Nathan’s Run–I was driven by the dream of possibilities. Then, after the unimaginable success of that first novel, I rode the wave of affirmation that I actually had the skills and talent to legitimately call myself an author. Truth be told, it was many years before I used that word to describe myself. Poser syndrome and all that.

Now, nearly 30 years later, the motivations to sit down and write are . . . different. With over 3 million words in print, I’ve proven everything that I set out to prove–if not to others, then to myself. My deal with my publisher allows me to write pretty much whatever I want with the promise that they will publish it. All the conflicting pressures are gone. I no longer feel guilty for the stolen writing hours because writing is what I do for a living.

But now, my distractions have become more interesting. The new house in a new state with a new puppy and a new radio show*, coincide with the slice of life when the hours of protracted isolation that I used to crave are mine for the taking. Why, then, do I often have to force myself to take them?

To be clear, I am observing here, not complaining. I am fully aware that I am gifted to be living my lifelong dream, and for that I am grateful every day.

I think maybe I’ve entered that sleeve of time in life when I’m paying the price for the indiscretions of my youth. Four vertebrae in my cervical spine have been surgically fused, and the rest of my spine features more damaged disks than healthy ones. Arthritis has started to invade my hands and feet and knees. To tame these maladies, nothing works better than activity. Wielding a shovel or swinging an axe is far better for me than sitting at my desk in a hunched writing position. These days, it takes 60 seconds or more to stand straight and walk normally after a 3-hour writing session.

At 66, I am already at least one year past the age I’d planned to retire back when I entered the workforce at age 15. Back then, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life, but I knew that after doing it for 50 years, I’d be ready to do nothing but relax.

It turns out I was wrong. As a storyteller, the spigot of story ideas and plot points has no shutoff valve. I can either write them down or they can keep me awake. Fact is, I love being an author–having a key to the club I always dreamed of belonging to, in the company of others who are far more talented than I, yet still consider me to be a peer.

But such benefits don’t come without the continuing effort to earn them. And so I continue to play with my imaginary friends whenever I can. Maybe it’s not as exciting as it used to be, but it’s still the best job in the world. And it’s fine to take time to split some wood, take a walk, or play Frisbee with Kimber.


*Speaking of the radio show, here’s a link to our interview last week with our very own Reavis Wortham.

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About John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of Lethal Game, Blue Fire, Stealth Attack, Crimson Phoenix, Hellfire, Total Mayhem, Scorpion Strike, Final Target, Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan’s Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom. Four of his books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen. In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, weapons systems, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

6 thoughts on “Not Writing Is Easier Than It Used To Be

  1. “I’ve proven everything that I set out to prove–if not to others, then to myself … [but] I continue to play with my imaginary friends whenever I can. Maybe it’s not as exciting as it used to be, but it’s still the best job in the world.”

    You echo my recent sentiments exactly, John. With 73 novels, 9 novellas and over 230 short stories in the can, things have slowed down a bit. Thank you for this post.

  2. I’ve slowed down, too, and I’m not feeling guilty about it. So, I’ll only have one book out in 2023 instead of two. I’ve got a decade on you, Mr. Gilstrap, and I’m ready to move travel further up my ‘to do’ list while I can still get around and enjoy new places. Time for photography is also slinking into my “I want to do more of this” list. Sure, I’m still writing, but my “publisher” is happy to adjust to what I want to do.

  3. John, I envy you and everyone who made their writing dream work at an early age.

    I’ve about become resigned to the fact that I’m going to have to be retired before I can get a lot of writing done. For now, I still do what I can between 5 and 6 a.m. before the day job and whatever I can squeak out on the weekends.

  4. One of the best things about starting the writing journey later in life is that everything is new and shiny. I’m like a child in a playpen surrounded by new toys. For me, this is a great blessing.

  5. Thanks, John. I thought it was just me. It seems like I wake up each day and argue with myself about whether or not I’ve got another story in me.

    Maybe the answer is, after No Tomorrows is published this fall, take a short break, then write shorter pieces…maybe just for me.

    Maybe that will help my brain get back to work.

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