'Writing to make ageing new': Dutch poets' understandings of late-life creativity

Aagje Swinnen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article presents the results of a study that examines how older professional writers experience and understand creativity in later life. In psychological, humanities' and gerontological approaches to ageing and creativity, this question is still under-explored. The study's data-set consists of transcriptions of lengthy interviews conducted in spring 2015 with five Dutch poets over 65 who have achieved some eminence in the field. By means of interpretative phenomenological analysis, three superordinate and 12 subordinate themes came to the fore that offer an account of the ideas, thoughts and feelings characteristic of the way these writers perceive the later stages in their career. The first superordinate theme, Securing Sustainable Writing Practices, comprises the subordinate themes of maintaining continuity in writing approach; drawing on wealth of experience; emancipating from earlier literary conceptions; and reinventing oneself as artist throughout the years. The second superordinate theme, Negotiating the Literary Field, encompasses the following subordinate themes: challenges regarding finding or keeping a publisher in later life; developing self-acceptance and relativising literary awards; handling continuity of reception, or the way literary work is pigeonholed by critics; and staying visible in the literary scene. The third and final superordinate theme, Writing as Art of Living, refers to: not feeling old(er); writing as a practice of good living; writing as a way to recreate what is lost or unknown; and confronting cognitive decline. Together, these superordinate and subordinate themes diversify ideas of late-life creativity that are based on questionable generalising conceptualisations of the psychology of later life and artistic careers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543-567
Number of pages25
JournalAgeing & Society
Issue number3
Early online date7 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • AGE
  • continuity and change
  • creativity in later life
  • interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • older professional poets


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