Monday, 21 March 2016

Are you too old for a writing career?

Here's a question. It bugs me. Perhaps it bugs you too. I'm well past my first flush of youth, and life passes at a terrifying lightning pace. Do you feel that there's not enough time left to accomplish all your goals? Do you feel that, (being realistic, not sexist), as a woman, you get far too little time to write? Is it any easier if you're male?

This actually sounds like an Insecure Writers Support Group post, but it isn't. That's a couple of weeks away! 

I've read about writers with young children who can tap out the words on the kitchen table while havoc rules the house. That's some of you. That's not me. I like to shut myself away when I write, or take myself off to a cafe or library.

An author I greatly admire, Virginia Woolf, said in her essay, A room of one's own, (free e-book link), 'a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.' I'll be fine when the remodelling is done, but up till now, I've made do.

How do you sit with that one?

No question we're living in a youth-obsessed society. We celebrate and idolize young people who succeed in sports, business, and the arts. Facebook and Twitter feeds go viral with videos of impossibly young people doing impossibly impressive things. It stands to reason that we writers – who are, let’s face it, an insecure species, might feel some pressure to succeed before… well, before it’s too late.

Tick! Tick! Tick!
Bottom line, once you're into your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s even, and have not yet been published – or perhaps have not yet finished your first book -- age  becomes an increasing concern. Wracked with insecurity, we ask ourselves: 

Is it too late? Am I too old to be published? Did I miss my shot?


Some say not as much as you think. But ageism is real. It exerts pressure on us in many aspects of our lives. But does it have to have that big an effect on us as writers? Maybe there actually are advantages to being an older writer. Huh? Say again!


The Shell SeekersThey actually occasionally have panels at writing conferences with discussions such as “Debuting Over 40.” And if you look around at conferences, not everyone is young and incredibly attractive. Some are even older that we are! 

I'm a big fan of Rosamunde Pilcher who successfully debuted at...80!! (After a successful media career). And if you check the link you'll see she went on to write copious novels, most of which I've read. there any advantage to debuting after 40?

I don't know about you. I always knew I was going to be a writer, but I struggled to find my writing voice in my 20s and 30s. I'd send off submissions to magazines and they told me to keep going which was all the encouragement I needed. But I felt I lacked life experience, so back to university for another course or two...then marriage and children and a teaching career,,,pens away for quite a few years.

By the time we sit down and seriously write, many of us have been through some pretty major highs and lows: illness, death, war, job failures and successes, raising children, moving house, time in the 'clink', a bad relationship – or two, or three, or four. All of this informs our world view, along with our writing.
I'm not putting down people who have been roaring successes at an early age – from Mary Shelley to Norman Mailer to the Beatles. Some people have already lived extraordinary lives before they’re 20, or are incredibly talented or got the breaks. But I think the average 40-year-old has a deeper emotional well to draw from than the average 20-something.
But beyond life experience, there are other advantages to being an older writer. Maybe you have developed some deep expertise that you can use in your storytelling like Tom Clancy with his techie details to essentially create a new genre of thriller. (BTW, he was in his late 30s when he debuted.) Perhaps your experiences, expertise and social connections have given you a basis for the dreaded P word: platform. You also might have more savvy business skills, and therefore better equipped for the unique challenges and hurdles you’ll face in the ever-changing business of publishing.
Image result for image of bottle of aged wineSeeing headlines about yet another 20-something wunderkind who just signed a bazillion-dollar book deal can be daunting (okay, even flat-out soul-crushing, and insecurity inducing). But if you started later – or who are simply taking longer to get where you want to go – give yourself a break. Instead of worrying about being too old, try thinking of yourself as aging like a fine wine.

Love that image!

Beauty is an advantage in ALL aspects of life – that’s just a given. But I think it’s different for writers. Here’s why: unlike other areas of the arts – particularly music, TV and film – writers are not under as much pressure to be young and beautiful. That’s because the focus is not so much on what writers look like as on the stories that they create. Sure, youth, beauty and charisma can help a writer, and some publishers can be swayed by a pretty young face, but it’s generally understood that most writers are behind-the-scenes people, not rock stars.
Think about it.

Nora Roberts is a chain-smoking 65-year-old grandmother.
Clive Cussler is 84 and people still buy his books.
Janet Evanovich is 72 and
James Patterson is 68.

Readers don’t seem to think any of them are too old to write something they’d like to read. And Patterson published his first novel at the age of 29, but he didn’t quit his day job and start writing full time until he was 49.
So...if you’re young and gorgeous, work it. Absolutely. If you’re old and gorgeous, work it. But if you don't consider yourself gorgeous, don’t write yourself off. Your STORY is what’s important.

Here are some great links I found when researching for this article:

It’s Never Too Late: On Becoming a Writer at 50

  • How about you? Are you young, gorgeous and a successful author?
  • Do you sometimes wonder if it's worth trying to have a successful writing career?
  • Do you think age matters if you're a writer?
  • If you're a successful mature writer, do you have any tips for those less successful than you are?


Nilanjana Bose said...

'But I think the average 40-year-old has a deeper emotional well to draw from than the average 20-something.'

I was writing at 20 and at 40 and now when 40 is also, ahem, no other way to put it - past. And I couldn't agree with that statement more. I know my writing is more nuanced than it was when I was young.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I didn't debut as an author until I was over forty. We do have more life experience and I think we also have more patience. That last one is definitely needed.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I think many writers debut later in life. So many people start writing in their 30's or 40's. And we do have more life experiences and understanding of life as we age. We should never let go of our dreams.

Yolanda Renée said...

I didn't start seriously until I was in my 30's but I agree it better to have a well of experience to draw upon. Dreams are ageless! Go for it!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Older writers have more staying power. Younger people tend to flit off to the next adventure and can't stick with it. Remember the kid who wrote Eragon? Whatever happened to him?

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Denise ... we can do it when we want, or as in my case when the realisation comes along I can write. There seem to be plenty of authors who write at varying age - a local lady has written her book on walking a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela - she decided for her 70th she'd do it. Amazing woman ... no idea if she can write - but she tells a good story!

Clive Cussler uses ghost writers ... see Elizabeth Spann Craig's recent post on them ...

Cheers Hilary

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Ask that of C.S. Lewis or Grandma Moses! You're right: the more we have lived the greater the odds that our perceptions have deepened along with the wounds inflicted. Older writers can paint a more sensitive, more aware prose scene than many writers who have yet seen four decades.

It is wise however in this youth-oriented culture to never mention your age or post a photo of yourself, to write at times tales of young protagonists, and to keep a sense of humor at the absurdity of life. :-) Fun post, Roland

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Being an older writer, I really identified with this post. Although my first publishing credit came when I was much younger, in my early 20s, I chose to set aside the pursuit of a writing career for the responsibilities of home and family. And since we had a large family, the writing was postponed for a very long time. The idea of being too old still bothers me sometimes. In my weaker moments of self-doubt, I'll think, who wants to hear what someone my age has to say about anything? But actually, self-doubt can paralyze a writer at any stage of life. I really like hearing about older writers, and I'm much more interested in reading their work too.

Botanist said...

Really the only worthwhile consideration is - can you write a book that will captivate readers? If you can, what does it matter whether you're in your 20s or pushing 90?

Denise Covey said...

Good comment Ian. What you write is key.

Denise Covey said...

Me too Karen. There is just a depth to their novels, but I get that a fast-moving action plot keeps a lot of readers happy today. As women, we have always got to relegate our writing to fit in with others. I find that anyway.

Denise Covey said...

I agree with most of your comment, Roland, and I know how protective of your image you are. I don't see a problem posting a photo though. I relate more to photos than avatars.

Denise Covey said...

Writing finds us at times, Hilary. Ghost writers, huh? So do a lot of other authors I imagine. James Patterson usually co-authors with another authors these days.

Denise Covey said...

Younger people flit off to the next adventure...not only in writing. My daughter with the cafe has realised older workers are better value on so many fronts.

Yes, some one-hit wonders are out there, but I guess they've at least had one hit!

Denise Covey said...

Yes, we need to follow our dreams until the last. Maybe someone will discover all my unpublished mss then rewrite them and publish them after I'm gone, lol!

Denise Covey said...

I agree Natalie. Hold tight!

Denise Covey said...

Hmm. Patience. Some of us never learn that. Would come in handy!

Michael Di Gesu said...


SOOOO good to be visiting you today. I LOVE your post!!!! Coming from a former young and gorgeous success in the fashion industry DECADES ago, it is not the always a good thing.

I am the descriptive writer I am today because of my travels and LIFE experience. At the time money flew in all directions and your sense of purpose is so not clear. You think it will last forever, but that day comes when you either tire of it or it tires of you. Thankfully I left at the top of my game and went back into my art because I missed it so.

Design was in my soul and still is, BUT in 2009 when the market crashed, I lost many contracts and found myself with no work. What do you do then... first you FREAK then you think. I wrote my first novel that year. I went back into illustration and did dozens of chapter illustrations and an intricate cover. I was ready for publication. HA!!!!!

NO such luck.... But I had the AMAZING fortune of finding this blogger writing community and I leaned SOOOOOOO much over the years and have some amazing friends. As long as writers keep an open mind and keep writing what they love, they will get where they want to be.

AND , you are NEVER TOO OLD! I started writing at 48... I am well into my 50's now and believe me I don't feel OLD at ALL... This is a great age because we KNOW WHO we are... Those 20 and 30 somethings are still trying to figure out life.

We pass this on in our writing. REAL emotion, REAL LIFE. that is what reader relate to, not the flash in the pan stories....

Being true to ourselves will generate the readers who appreciate our stories..

Congrats again on your remodeling ... I CAN'T wait to see what you do!

NEWS... I found my place in the sun... ORLANDO, FL... I hope to close on it in three weeks. YAY!!!! It is tiny and ADORABLE. A great winter escape. I'll send you pics as soon as it's a done deal!

Denise Covey said...

Hello Michael! Yours is exactly the enthusiastic reply I was looking for as it shows you really relate to the post. Every word you say is SO TRUE! 'Youth is wasted on the young.' Old saying. Pretty much true.

So pleased you found your adorable place in Florida. Now that will be such a great place to escape to. No doubt there'll be lots of pics on that one.

Our remodelling is going well...but too slow for me! But it'll be worth it!!

Thanks for visiting!

Denise :-)

Optimistic Existentialist said...

Goodness I do not think that a person can, in any way, be TOO old to be a writer. I feel that the older one is, the better writer they will be by virtue of their life experience.

Misha Gerrick said...

Young and gorgeous, yes. Successful... depends on your definition of success. :-)

Scheherazade said...

I think many of us have been writing all our lives but never considered ourselves "writers" because it was part of our day job and although some of the stuff we had to write about seemed to be high fiction, we were truly non fiction writers. In any event, I don't think anyone is too old to write fiction. Writing does not require beauty, charm, or youth. It does require imagination, which has nothing to do with age.

Unknown said...

Sometimes, I do feel too old. But then I read posts like this, and cheer up again!

Damyanti, AZ cohost 2016

Michelle Wallace said...

Denise, I'm asking myself the VERY SAME QUESTIONS. But it's WORSE for me, because I only started writing seriously within the last four years.

I don't have memories of early writing angsty experiences or old manuscripts languishing in forgotten drawers that become a frame of reference to compare my writerly growth over the decades... you know those stories you can dust off and use as a form of therapy as you laugh your socks off, when you read those early attempts as a newbie who was destined to 'take the writerly world by storm'!!
Do teen poems count? Poetry IS my first love, after all.
Coming back to the issue. I've always been a reader. I started reading from the age of 5 and kept it up for many years. Then came the 30's and 40's which saw a decline in my reading habits. You know the story? Life, studies, teaching, a kid, marriage...more or less in that order...reading fell by the wayside (the prescribed teaching literature not excluded here)
And then I discovered the internet! Ha!
Then I discovered blogging! Ha!
Then I discovered Goodreads - and felt SUPER GUILTY! What had I done? Neglected my reading all those years?? BAD.
The 2013, 2014, 2015 Goodreads challenges FORCED me to get back into the swing of reading. I've always been a speed reader and fortunately, that hasn't changed too much.
At the same time I discovered flash fiction! OMG! I was hooked!!
...and then I discovered that I wasn't too bad at the flash fiction thing. But what makes me think I can write a novella? No answer. There was a time when I couldn't write more than 200 words in a piece. I kid you not!!

Fast forward to where I am now.
So there I went off at a tangent.... but now you have an essay of my VERY SHORT writing career.

Michelle Wallace said...

...reading fell by the wayside (the prescribed teaching literature excluded here...thank goodness for prescribed texts that kept me reading...)

BUT I'm having the time of my life!!

Ann Carbine Best said...

I LOVE this short essay, Michelle! I'm almost 76, and got my memoir published four years ago. Like you I've always been a reader. It's never too late for anything IMHO. And I'm back to blogging after a hiatus, and like you having the time of my life!!
Ann @

Ann Carbine Best said...

Hi, Denise (many waves from me and Jen). You do know how to write an awesome post (as well as fiction) and generate a discussion. Loved Michael's short and enthusiastic mini-essay comment.

I also love Rosamunde Pilcher. At one time like you I read many, many of her novels.

I firmly believe one is never too old to write, to long as the fingers and eyes hold out!!
Ann @

Jen said...

Hi Denise!

I don't think age matters. As long as you have something to say, you should say it, write it down, get it out there! In my opinion, the older the writer, the more wisdom and life experience they can pour into their work, be it fiction or nonfiction or poetry.

And yes, I do agree with Virginia: I NEED a place of my own to create, not just in writing but in anything! It's nice to go someplace quiet and separate and feel you have the freedom to create without being judged.

Have a wonderful day!

Cathrina Constantine said...

Oh, man, Denise, you've been reading my mind. I had those same thoughts running around my brain at lightning speed for years!!!! And after talking with my children and few other people, age doesn't matter when it comes to writing.

There's a time in life when you're ready, and my time was later. I did try to write at a younger age, but birthing 5 children life got in the way. And I agree with you, I don't know how someone can write while raising a family, I give them loads of credit!!!!

I don't need a place of my own to write. A chair in the living room, in my bedroom, on the patio, as long as its quiet, I'm good.

Writer's come in all ages, young to old. Enjoy.

Denise Covey said...

If we lack imagination our writing will lack too. Spot on Linda.

Denise Covey said...

Heh heh. We're not past it Damyanti!

Denise Covey said...

I'm loving this mini essay Michelle. Perhaps starting later in life will give you a focus lacking in those much younger. Keep having the time of your life...because now is your time!!

Denise Covey said...

Ann, I was hoping you'd come by. You are the poster child for late but successful. Keep selling that memoir!

Denise Covey said...

How lovely it will be to finally have my little den. Hoping for a creative explosion!

Denise Covey said...

Catarina. Glad you have it sorted. Keep enjoying as you publish your amazing books.

Adura Ojo said...

Hi Denise
It's been a while! Hope you're good.
You've touched on an issue close to my heart. It's never too late is the positive attitude to adopt but one also knows it's easier said than done. I'm middle aged with a 9 year old daughter so still juggling the balls of priorities and time and middle age 'issues' ;-) . Not easy but it is important to hold on to one's dreams and keep going until they're fully realized. At the very least (the thought of) executing one's dreams keeps one alive.

Ann Carbine Best said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Sis!

Denise Covey said...

So great to hear from you Adura. I agree. Living is dreaming.

writing and living by Richard P Hughes said...

I admire those who can write, get published, and find an audience no matter what their age is. It's hard work no matter how old you are. The big difference is that young writers have a lot more optimism about writing, a much greater belief that they will make it, while an older writer might be a little bit callused, a little less optimistic. At least, it seems that way with me.

Denise Covey said...

All good points Richard.

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