AS A WRITING COACH, I OFTEN HEAR “I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO WRITE!” I was just waiting for the kids to leave the nest (or to be able to work part-time, or to retire, or …). I hear this or some variation from aspiring authors pretty regularly. And I understand! Writing takes a certain amount of time and quiet and concentration—and all of these are in short supply when we’re raising kids and working full-time. But once the day comes—kids successfully launched, work obligations managed—and you’re ready to get serious about that long-held writing dream, do you worry you’ve left it too late?
What you know now will help you as a late-bloomer writer!
Writing, as much as any art form I know, has a long curve. I have come to learn as a writing coach that no matter when we start, we’ve got to dig in and learn the craft, as well as figure out our own best approach to getting words on the page reliably. In later life, we may have developed more patience for both of these tasks. In fact, we may even have an edge over our younger selves!
At fifty or sixty, we quite likely have a better sense of how we learn than we did earlier in life. Will we get more from an online class? One-on-one instruction? Or taking a deep dive into a pile of books on the subject? Or do we do best when we just jump in, accruing knowledge on an as-needed basis as we go?
In mid-life (or later), we are also better acquainted with our own habits than we may once have been. Such self-awareness is invaluable when we’re engaging in a pursuit that requires the type of long-term commitment writing asks of us. For instance, by this point, we might know we are absolutely a morning person, not a night owl. That means we can create a schedule that has us writing at our most productive time of day.
We might have also learned strategies that keep us from spinning our wheels. For instance, we once may have dug in our heels, wasting precious energy trying to wrestle a problem into submission. But now, we’re more likely to let the problem go, to step away and take a walk or a nap, understanding that sort of soft focus is more likely to bring us to an elegant solution.
Even more important? With a few extra years under our belt, we understand more about what it means to be human than we did in our youth or early adulthood. And this, above everything, will make what we write today all the more valuable than what we would-a could-a should-a written a few yesterdays ago.
Get inspired by older writers!
In ON WRITING, Stephen King says, … agents, publishers, and editors are all looking for the next hot writer who can sell a lot of books and make lots of money … and not just the next hot young writer, either; Helen Santmyer was in a retirement home [in her eighties!] when she published AND LADIES OF THE CLUB. Frank McCourt was quite a bit younger  when he published ANGELA’S ASHES, but he was still no spring chicken.
Taking a quick spin around the web, I discovered a few more notable, late-publishing authors to inspire us who have left the art of writing for our retirement years.
Grace Burrowes always kept a diary, but the best-selling romance author was more reader than writer—until she wrote her first novel when her daughter left for college.
Then, there’s Sir Christopher Bland, who was 76 when his first novel, ASHES IN THE WIND, was published. Today, the Royal Society of Literature has established the RSL Christopher Bland Prize, to encourage the work of older writers. The £10,000 prize is awarded annually to an author who was fifty or older when they were first published.
And if all that doesn’t assure you that you are in good company no matter how old (or young) you are when you first get the writing bug, there’s a great article in THE NEW YORKER, by Malcolm Gladwell, titled “Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?” that might do the trick.
You might also like a short post I wrote a couple of years ago called “Is It Too Late: Writing Practice.” It features an encouraging article on late-blooming writers by author and literary advice columnist Roxanne Gay.
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