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Writing isn’t just a young person’s game. Many authors who didn’t start writing until they were in their fifties, sixties, and seventies (and older!) have made their mark with critics and readers.

Jonathan Safran Foer published Everything Is Illuminated at age 25 and Haruki Murakami’s first novel, Hear the Wind Sing,, was published when he was 29 — and they’re far from the only notable authors to start young. For aspiring writers, especially those not in their twenties or thirties, it can be all too easy to look at the career timelines of literature’s most publicized stars and think that it’s a game best left to the young.

A closer look reveals a different truth: Whether you’re 20 or 90, it’s never too late to start writing and publish your first book. Here’s a wide-ranging sample of authors, from pioneers to presidents, who published their first work in the second half of their life.

Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt’s first book, Angela’s Ashes, won a Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, earned a National Book Critics Circle Award, and was adapted into a major motion picture. He was 66 when it was published.

Angela’s Ashes, which recounted McCourt’s upbringing in poverty in Ireland and the United States, was just the beginning for the author. He penned several more books before his death, including ’Tis in 1999 and Teacher Man in 2005, which chronicle his experiences living and teaching high school in New York City.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Born into a Wisconsin pioneer family, Laura Ingalls Wilder drew on her childhood experiences on the American frontier to create the hugely popular Little House on the Prairie series.

Wilder first honed her storytelling skills as a schoolteacher and then as a writer and editor for Missouri Ruralist and other publications. When her family lost much of its net worth in the stock market crash of 1929, she began work on what would become her first book, Little House in the Big Woods. It was published by Harper & Brothers in 1932, when Wilder was 64. She would go on to complete a total of eight autobiographical children’s novels in the still-beloved series.

Millard Kaufman

In addition to creating Mr. Magoo, Millard Kaufman had an extensive career as a screenwriter, earning several Oscar nominations for his work. His first novel, though, came out towards the end of his life. Entitled Bowl of Cherries, the book was published in 2007, when Kaufman was 90 years old.

Kaufman didn’t stop there; his second novel, Misadventure, was published after the author’s death two years later.

Ulysses S. Grant

The 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, created his renowned Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant in his final years. He rushed to complete the work before succumbing to throat cancer in hopes of having the book support his family in perpetuity. Despite being in significant pain during the memoir’s creation, Grant regularly completed dozens of pages per day.

The book was published (by Mark Twain, interestingly enough) upon Grant’s death in 1885 and quickly became a bestseller. Grant was 63 when he passed.

Harriet Doerr

Born in the early 1900s, Harriet Doerr grew up in wealth as the granddaughter of a California railroad developer. She attended Stanford University but left in her junior year to raise a family. In the 1950s, she and her husband moved to Mexico, where they stayed until his death in 1972.

Afterwards, Doerr moved back to California, finished her degree at Stanford, and drafted her first novel, Stones for Ibarra, a story inspired by her time in Mexico. The book received the National Book Award for First Work of Fiction when it was published in 1984. Doerr was 74 at the time.

Tim Finch

A former BBC political journalist and communications director for the Refugee Council, Tim Finch is the author of the 2013 debut novel, House of Journalists, which was published when he was 51.

“Writing is obviously a solitary exercise,” Finch told The Telegraph in 2017. “If it’s something you turn to in middle age, you often don’t have many or any contacts in the literary world.” Finch and dozens more novelists who first published after the age of 40 banded together into an organization called The Prime Writers, a group that Finch described to The Telegraph as existing to help “people in their ‘prime’ to realize it is certainly not too late to write that novel and get it published.”

When it comes to authors who first published in the second half of life, this sampling is just the beginning — so if you’re in your fifties or above and are working hard on your first book, you’re in excellent company.

Do you have any favorite authors who started publishing in middle age or beyond? Do you fit in that category yourself? Tell us in the comments below.

 

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Michael Gallant

About Michael Gallant

Michael Gallant has written 14 posts in this blog.

Michael Gallant is a writer, musician, composer, producer, and entrepreneur. He lives in New York City. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant.

23 thoughts on “It’s Never Too Late To Start Writing

  1. Nancy Poling says:

    I’m a late bloomer. I had to age like a fine wine. I think my life experiences and insights add to the depth of my writing. A downside, though, is that agents and publishers tend to be searching for young writers, not realizing that some of us, though older, carry a multitude of stories inside our mind.

    1. Patricia barnhart says:

      Self publish! There are a multitude of opportunities out there from guided DIY forums to publishing entities that will help you with everything from cover to authors picture. The more you can manage yourself, the less expensive it will be. With ten books under my belt and an eleventh in the works, I love being an Indie author.

    2. RJ Thesman says:

      This is one reason why so many of us are Indie Publishing. Age doesn’t matter when you do it yourself.

    3. Joan says:

      Have you ever thought of self-publishing. I have a friend who is 97 and is writing and publishing her sixth book of poetry. It does take money to do this, but if you can do it, it may help you get your work out.

    4. bob mcnesby says:

      Never have truer words been spoken!!!

    5. Rob Jung says:

      Nancy:
      My personal experience coincides exactly with what you have said.
      Despite their protestations to the contrary, agents do not take older writers seriously. My first novel, Cloud Warriors, will be released February 22, 2019. After shopping it for two years to agents, I finally gave up and had it published by a hybrid publisher, John Hunt Publishing in the UK. The pre-release reviews on the book are excellent (4 and 5 stars). I will be 17 days short of my 76th birthday when the book is released. My next novel, The Reaper, will be released in June of this year. Loose Ends (working title), the sequel to The Reaper, will be released in late 2019.

  2. This is a great blog subject, Michael. I began my first novel, Separated at the Border, last summer at age 68. It has been published and is now available everywhere as a trade paperback and ebook. It has been getting many great 5-star reviews and I am now working on my follow-up, Green Water.

  3. DV I will be 86 next month. On my third book which I’m entitling ‘DOCTORS: Villains and Heroes.’ Friends tell me I need a literary agent — any ideas? I’m sure BookBaby will tell me it can do all I need, but at a price.

  4. Steve G. says:

    Thanks for the encouraging post. On those inevitable days when I want to give up writing, I’m going to refer back to this rather than listen to that voice taunting me with, “Why bother? You’re too old to get published anyway.”

  5. Penny Christian Knight says:

    I started my memoir when I was 80 in my spare time from my work as a psychotherapist. I hope to finish it this year. I am 85, and I plan to self-publish.

  6. I started writing in 2011 after leaving a 41 year career in senior management in healthcare companies at the age of 72. Prior to that my writing had been strictly procedural and instructional manuals. My first book was published in 2012 and since then I’ve published a total of 10 books. I can’t put myself in the category of those in this article since I’m a niche writer, but my books stand on their own and my small revenue streams in monthly. As an Indie publisher I do my own marketing and promos and am not too keen on that part. But my enjoyment comes from the writing process, although I’d love to have huge sales too.

  7. I was born two days before D-Day and just started blogging four years ago. My stories are mostly from my motherline but they certainly get me up early every day.

  8. Richard Marcott says:

    I published “The View From The Rigging: Memoirs of a Coast Guard Career.” I was 81 when published in Nov. 2017. I received the silver medal for memoirs that year from the Military Writers Society of America. My daughter lauded to the world her pride in her dad publishing his FIRST book at 81, that of course I had to do another one. I just finished my first novel “It’s My Turn” a women’s fiction piece, and am currently seeking a publisher or agent. Life does go on if you let it.

  9. Thank you for the encouragement. I wrote my first book after the age of 65.

  10. I began publishing my writing in my fifties. Last year I co-authored a collection of stories, poems and photographs with my 94 year old friend. we are both planning more books. Thanks for this post. I plan to share it. I teach senior adults who want to write memoir for their families.

  11. Richard Dahlgren says:

    I love it! I began my writing career five years ago. Since, three novels, a novella, and young adult book. I am now publishing my second novel, Donavan & Jude. I am 81!

    By the way BookBaby…I will be using you folks.

    Dick Dahlgren

  12. Barbara Stark-Nemon says:

    This is a topic near to my heart. I published my first novel at 65, and my second at 68… I’m fascinated by the concept of encore careers.. I had a 30+year career in education and speech pathology. Narrative and storytelling runs through everything I’ve ever done that’s important work to me. Reinvention and resilience happen to be themes in my novels and also in my life! There are so many of us telling stories with the time and wisdom of this point in our lives!!

  13. Norma says:

    This article is a great encouragement to me. At 67 I am again putting pen to paper ( fingers to keyboard in actuality) to step into the literary world being that it’s never too, eh.

  14. Cenarth Fox says:

    I started novels when younger and never finished them. I published my first novel – A Plum Job – in 2015 when I was in my late sixties. In four years I’ve written several and my tenth novel is due next month. cenfoxbooks dot com

  15. Currently writing my sixth Zachary Blake Legal Thriller. I published Betrayal of Faith when I was 64, Betrayal of Justice at 65 and Betrayal in Blue at 66. I have two more Zachary Blake novels in editing and one work in progress. Can’t explain this sudden burst of artistic energy in my middle sixties other than to say that I have more time on my hands than I did when I owned and operated a busy law office. I am enjoying this a plan to continue

  16. I began writing plays when I was 13. I stopped through my adult years. I began again in my 50s. My plays have had readings from the Living Theatre to the Provincetown Theatre, with many short ones fully produced, an original radio drama “The Mooncusser’s Tale” just aired on WOMRFM Cape Cod last Halloween. And more to come. I am well, well past my 50s now.

  17. I self published my book, “Hiding in a Cave of Trunks”, a memoir, when I was 76. And I am 81 now and I am writing theater and event reviews for an online worldwide publication. I’ve published in several anthologies and written short stories for many years and still continue to do that. I do a lot of public speaking and have developed keynote presentations. People constantly request a sequel to my book and I’m considering it! I still have so many untold stories in me! Age doesn’t seem to have limitations—just go for it!

  18. Susan says:

    Thank you for this wonderful and inspiring article, and all the affirmative comments that followed. I’ll be 62 next month, and I’ve been working on my first novel. I hope to get it published, but if there are no agents or publishers who take me seriously, I’ll publish it myself. And it will be their loss.

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