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5:30am starts and hard lessons: How Suzanne achieved her dream at 67

·5-min read
Suzanne McCourt smiles while leaning on a wall with ivy, pen and paper with writing on it, laptop.
Suzanne McCourt turned her hand to writing when she was in her mid-50s, and went on to be long-listed for the Miles Franklin. (Images: Supplied, Getty).

Throughout Suzanne McCourt’s working life there was a desire that never left her, and that was to become a writer.

That day came when she reached her mid fifties, retired from teaching and turned to her passion.

Ten years later, at 67, she published her first book, The Lost Child, which earned a spot in the top ten finalists in the prestigious Miles Franklin literary awards.

During that decade to 2014 she worked hard on her writing and creativity.

“I was learning a new profession; one can’t develop a new career, particularly a writing career without hard work,” says McCourt.

WATCH: Why you should incorporate a walk into your day.

“With every poem, short story, book or character I created, I was learning. The benefit over time was, I became more skilled with every piece.”

To help her along the way, McCourt joined a romance writing group.

“Everyone thinks it’s easy to write a Mills & Boon novel, but it can be very restrictive if you have more of a literary bent.”

The process did help her to hone in character development, dialogue and plot.

“More importantly, I discovered that the ‘dark’ sections, which didn’t belong in a romance environment, were actually where my interest lay.”

McCourt discovered Julia Cameron’s the ‘Artist’s Way’ course. “It changed my life. It helped me tap into my creativity.”

Around this time she began keeping a daily journal and tapped into her childhood. These early writings developed into her first novel, The Lost Child.

“I was quite hard on myself and tried to write for eight hours a day.”

McCourt applied for a residential writing fellowship, one of the judges was an editor at a publishing house who liked her work. Within weeks, she was offered a contract.

“Luck played a huge part. Although, I didn’t sit idly hoping to be published. I did numerous writing courses, submitted stories to journals and competitions. I continue to read and write and learn. Today, I consider myself blessed to have such a life.”

Since writing her first book, McCourt has added a novella along with her latest book, The Tulip Tree to her stable.

How she does it: Suzanne’s routine

Front cover of book The Lost Child showing ocean and two large rock formations, Suzanne McCourt smiles in front of agapanthus'.
Suzanne McCourt published both of her books with Text Publishing. (Images: Text Publishing, Supplied).

The 74 year old is very disciplined. “On a typical day, I start writing at 5.30am, it’s when I do my best writing, I have breakfast, then I walk the dogs and then come back and write for another three hours.”

To feed her well of creativity, she found she was productive writing 3 to 4 hours a day.

“It’s very important for me to write every day. It’s a meditation, an escape from life. If I don’t write, I get frustrated, edgy and irritable.”

McCourt joined another writing group as the process of writing is isolating.

“You can get together with like-minded people, the social connection is important and you don’t feel so alone.”

“I value having to turn up each month and it taught me to trust my own view. While you receive input from others, ultimately you have to fall back on your own belief. I am also fortunate have writing buddy who is on my wavelength and we bounce projects off each other.”

Financial back-up a critical support

McCourt reflects on her life and admits that while it would be ideal to have achieved writing success earlier; having financial back-up is important.

“We live in a success-driven society; often the measure of success is financial. It is so hard to not follow a creative passion when you’re young, I understand this well. You run the risk of not making enough money.”

“To be published is wonderful, but, I find it fascinating when I’m asked, particularly by men, how many copies I’ve sold? Or, how much I’ve made; this is still a measure of success.”

Writing is definitely not lucrative for the majority of writers, she adds.

“It’s important to define success by your own criteria. What makes you happy? Retirement is often the time people have to develop hobbies with no success-driven or lucrative intent. If you want financial success from a creative hobby, it takes hard work and luck!”

McCourt tapped into her superannuation after she retired. “My husband was in a reasonable financial position too, so we didn’t have any financial stress.”

It is critical in the creative process to not worry about money.

“Some people can write in an attic and be totally impoverished; I can’t separate the mind part that worries about money. Follow your passion and if you happen to be well remunerated, then that’s a plus. ”

McCourt is an advocate of keeping fit.

“We are living longer and there is time to follow your passion. I keep healthy, maintain a good diet and exercise. I need my brain to keep functioning as sitting all day is not healthy.”

Writing NSW offers the following tips to help creativity.

  • Find a creative community – Join a writing group, network at writing events, and connect with writers online. Other writers will keep you motivated and accountable.

  • Establish a creative routine – Keep your goals achievable and be consistent. It takes time to form new habits.

  • Hone your craft – Commit to your passion and sharpen your knowledge and skills with courses, seminars, and writing events.

  • Let go of perfectionism – Have fun, experiment, and allow yourself to make mistakes. The editing comes later.

  • Read, read, read. Widely and often.

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