As you may know, I’m not a kid. I was fifty-five years old when I decided I wanted to write. I’ve been taking classes, reading books, talking to authors, and, most importantly, writing since I decided it was something I really wanted to do.
I’ve written a number of unbelievably bad manuscripts while I’ve been learning, but I’ve gotten better. One thing that always concerned me was that I’d come to the business of writing too late. Surely you need to start when you’re young to be successful, right?
The short answer is no, but I didn’t fully realize it until this past weekend.
I had the opportunity to spend some time with Laura Lippman at Sleuthfest, in Orlando over the weekend. She’s the New York Times, best selling author of the Tess Monaghan series, as well as the winner of virtually every award for excellence in the crime fiction genre. When I mentioned the age issue, she shook her head, saying she knew of plenty of authors who started at around my age, including some that had achieved great success. She was far too polite to tell me to get over myself, and just do the work.
I’d missed Hank Phillippi Ryan’s keynote address on Thursday, but I purchased the audio recording. Hank’s a big star in the writing world and is a vibrant, glamorous woman. Imagine my surprise when, during her introduction, I learned that she started writing at age fifty-five.
So I did a little research, trying to find well known authors who had their first books published while they were, ahem, getting along in years. Here are just a few of the ones I found:
- Frank McCort, the author of ANGELA’S ASHES, had his first book published at age sixty-six.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Author of the Little House series, was first published in her mid sixties.
- Raymond Chandler had his first novel, THE BIG SLEEP, published at age fifty-one.
- Rex Stout was forty-eight when he published the first of thirty-three novels and thirty-nine short stories featuring Nero Wolfe. He was eighty-nine when his last book was published.
It looks like this whole second act career idea is not so wild after all.
Are you in your mid-fifties, and thinking of writing? There’s nothing stopping you. But do us both a favor before you dash something off and click that publish button. Take some classes, read some books on craft, put some time in learning how to write. Then, practice, practice, practice, while you’re continuing to learn.
From one middle aged beginning writer to another, it’s not nearly as easy as it seems like it will be when you’re reading. But, it’s not so hard that you can’t put the time in and write something that’s pretty good. If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, and you’re willing to put the time in, then do it. I suspect you’ll amaze yourself.