It’s Never Too Late To Start Writing

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start writing

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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53 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

    • 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.

      • I would love to self publish but if you don’t have the money, it’s just another dream that sits on the “maybe one day I will” shelf, collecting dust! I’ve written six children’s books, 3 of them with my granddaughters. The youngest, who was three years old at the time, told the most outlandish stories they were just screaming to be a book. Noone would ever believe that all I did was write her words on paper and make a few grammatical corrections. The rest was all her. I hope that one day, hopefully before I’m dead, I can get them published. I’d like to leave them something personal when I’m gone.

    • 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.

    • 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. 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.”

    • Hi, Steve. It is now 02.02.20. I am wondering if you told that ‘voice’ to shut up and don’t bother me again? You don’t look all that old from your photo, so, I say, grey doesn’t matter, just get on with it. Maybe in your next photo you’ll be bald… who cares, as long as you keep pen to pad if that’s what you love, then never stop trying. I’m 80 yrs. Still trying to get a publisher for my sci/fi/romance /adventure. I’ll never give up; ’till I forget what it was I was doing! In the meantime, I’m working on the next 450 page adventure. This has been great topic. I hope it has helped others to keep going no matter their age. Love to get e-mails from other ‘oldies’. Cheers, Dale.

  5. 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.

    • Good for you, Penny. I self published my memoir, The View from the Rigging: Memoir of a Coast Guard Career. It received a silver medal for Memoirs from the Military Writers Society of America in 2017. My daughter was so proud, she told the face book world that her dad published his first book at 81! First book, she said! So, IS took up the challenge and just finished my fist novel, a women’s fiction piece, and I’m looking for an agent or small press publisher, this time, mostly to avoid the marketing effort. I’ll be 84 in July. You are not done yet–keep going.

  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 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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!!

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. Thanks for the inspiration. I am 66 years old and am writing my first science fiction novel, a far-future story, after writing numerous essays on numerous topics over the years. I hope to have the first draft done in March and several more drafts done during the rest of this year.

  18. A very encouraging article, thank you! I began self-publishing my erotic romance collections and novellas at the age of fifty and am enjoying the whole experience immensely! I have enjoyed modest success with Private Pleasures: The Collection and enjoy small, regular sales. Amazon KDP have certainly helped make the whole process very straightforward. I love the writing process as well as the freedom to design my own book covers! The marketing is fun too and one keeps learning all the time!

  19. Thanks so much for a great article!
    I have written privately for years but only self-published my childrens’ book at the age of 51 years. It was a labour of love as it is all about my cats and dogs in Zambia, where we lived, so that fact spurred me on to complete the work and publish, complete with illustrations. It has been a wonderful process and I derived much pleasure from my quiet wrtiting time, as well as everything that I learned along the way. So much so that I am now attempting my first full length
    ‘Agatha Christie style’ novel, Village Lies, currently a work in progress but I hope to self-publish by the end of 2019! The Little Cat who thought she was a Dog is only on Amazon as I have not yet ventured further afield, that will take more investigating and learning! Overall I find that the words flow much easier at my age now, than they did when I was younger!

  20. I published my first book, a historical novel, Jumping The Line, at age 75, and a memoir, The People We Wanted to Forget, last year at age 80. After a long, futile, and expensive agent search, I worked with a hybrid publisher, Book Publishers Network in Bothel, WA and have been very satisfied. Marketing was another very expensive and futile matter, and I soon gave it up for direct sales at Ketchikan, Alaska’s two annual art fairs, and at a local gallery to cruise ship visitors. I’ve sold 1,300 copies of Jumping the Line and 300 copies of The People We Wanted to Forget. Meeting people has been a worthy experience in itself. There is a downside with age, however. I’ve found that my attention span has shortened as well as my short term memory which requires constant revision, rewrites, and the help of a reader who is comfortable offering me criticism

  21. I don’t think society should put age into everything. Why do we say “even over 50 you can…” or You are never too old to…”. I say as long as you are on this earth, it doesn’t matter. Age should not be an issue. If you want to do something, just do it!

  22. I started seriously writing at the age of 74, but that was after several years of research and, yes, procrastinating. I finally published my first book, Shu Wei’s Revenge, at the ripe old age of 77, as an indie book under my own company, Bayside Press here in San Francisco. I am now working on the sequel at age 78 1/2 and am self-recording my first book as an audio book. The juices still flow, but my biggest issue is avoiding distraction from golf, biking, and other volunteer activities. I’m also in my 17th year of fighting prostate cancer, so the writing on the wall is getting larger than my own writing. But, I’m still having fun.

  23. Hello, Michael,

    The brain is a muscle, exercise it when not writing. Try doing crossword puzzles, etc. Works for me at age 71.

    Though the daily rigors of life inevitably impinge on a writer’s true love, age nevertheless allows a freedom that we didn’t have in youth.

    Best to you, keep at it,
    L. R. MacAllister

  24. There has never been a better time to be an indie writer. The writing, editing, and publishing communities have been forced to change their negative outlook on self publishing because of the shear success of indie writers. You just have to remember that in addition to writing a book you are also responsible for selling it. But regardless of how many you sell, letting a manuscript sit and gather dust is unacceptable. I have five books on Amazon, self published. Are they selling well? No, but they’re getting there.

  25. Thanks for the article, Michael. I recently wrote an article on the same topic for Medium, but since I’m new to that site, only a handful of people read it.

    It is great that someone with more clout is letting the world know that age has nothing to do with being a writer.

    I fell in love with writing at 16, and self-published my first book at 73. I’m now 80 and have 29 self-published books on Amazon – with two more in progress.

    You are correct – you are never too old!

    Thanks,

    Nancy N Wilson

  26. Am 81. Told stories to our children when they were young. Around 20 years ago I decided to tackle a novel, but after a few chapters, went off to do other things. Now living in a senior facility, I have finished the first draft of that novel. Revising is taking longer than the original writing. As Michael mentioned, age affects memory, and I find myself using my thesaurus constantly for those “tip of the tongue” moments when I know what I want to write, but the word disappears before I get it written. Have a few short stories I am considering releasing into the world. Maybe I’ll enter a few poems in some contests? But mainly I want to make this novel the best that I can and get it out there. Then there is the sequel…

    • Hi, Marilyn, I love your determination to get your novel finished. I have been trying to finish mine for even longer. Would you like to exchange a few pages with me, by e-mail, so we can comment on each others work. We may be able to pick up on things missed and encourage each other along the way. I am an 80 yr old lady living in QLD Australia. Cheers.

  27. I am a senior citizen who has just self published an alphabet book about the State of Idaho. The Dragon of Yankee Fork combines personal stories, poetry, and photographs, that took many years to complete. Now it is out where readers can enjoy some of the Gem State’s wonderful adventures.

  28. I’m writing/written my first book and I’m in my sixties. I don’t see myself as a late writer even though I fit in the category. I only see myself as a writer.

    Now, if I write a book posthumously then I will truly be a late writer.

  29. My hearty thanks for Michael Gallant’s Post about aging writers. It’s thrilling! I can add my age to the group. April 2020 gives me 92 years, and I am beginning my first fiction novel’s rewrite as suggested by my editor. I’m also planning Book 2, a sequel to Book 1. The protagonist in Book 1 just wouldn’t hush . . . so

    However, I’m having a problem because two “flying white horses” are kicking up loud neighs wanting attention now. They think Book 2 needs to fly next. Since patience, one of MY flaws, still has a little zing, I now have the old-age wisdom to lighty nudge the horses saying, “Later you two, later.”

    My business plan lists Bookbaby as my publisher.

  30. I’ll be 70 this year, and I’ve self-published two non-fiction eBooks in the last five years. Looking forward to writing more and perhaps getting BookBaby to help me publish one I’m revising and a new one I’m working on.

  31. I published my memoir, “Rosie (and me)”, when I was 73. I had been working on the memoir for decades, never believing that my dream of publishing it would actually come true. Well, it did! And it is one of the most rewarding accomplishments I have ever achieved. Don’t give up!

  32. I don’t even want to say my age! I have always written. Poems, stories, letters, affidavits, assignments while pursuing higher education. But it started with an imagined story from childhood, which evolved into a manuscript in my teens, started a few times. Then my first son had Asperger’s Syndrome and he couldn’t tell the difference between fiction and reality. It led him to obsessively attempting to buy an old factory (due for demolition if it didn’t sell) used for packaging baking ingredients and the forming of a famous recipe book. This was to become his version of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. He read a book “Too Young the Hero” and made numerous under-aged attempts to join the Navy. He read novels at school about impoverished young people who were helped by an organisation to find wonderful Foster Homes, where they each had a new chance at life. He told lies (the grass is always greener else where!) to have a similar happy ending. He got what he wanted and became bitterly unhappy, because the grass is not greener on the other side and one’s family give more support when you have a disability.

    As a result, my fantasy manuscript was trashed. I hated fiction with a vengeance. This changed my reading habits to non fiction, exclusively. By the time I had overcome my dislike of fiction I had no time. After bringing up five children I wrote another manuscript of the original story though carefully researched. Turned out it will take up three books. So I completed the second (almost). Then afterwards studied about how to write online. Oh dear! I’ve had to start over. A first draft is always awful! But I’m determined, despite putting it on hold again for five years. (We acquired our baby granddaughter who turned our lives upside down.) Then I got back into the self editing a few years ago, while little miss is at school. Some days I don’t think it will ever be published. It will be! Great to be in such good company.

  33. Love the topic. I am 80 yrs and still trying to get my sci/fi/romance/adventure published. There are such lot of us ‘oldies’ out there, who, like me, love writing but feel all the rest ; … blogging, advertising, selling books yourself, all the hours and hours spent on things other than writing is such a waste of our precious time; time that we have precious little of! Our love of writing is what motivates the majority of us seniors, not the thought of cash or acclaim, (of course a few extra $$$ wouldn’t be sneezed at), however, we want the time left to us to be used in a way we love … telling stories. Be they fiction or fact. Marketing sounds such a pain! We’ve had enough of pain in one way or another during out lifetimes. Now we want someone to do all that for us … at a price we can afford. ANYONE OUT THERE?

  34. At 76, I finally pulled together multiple stories in my mind and places our family had camped, and Kindred Journeys was self-published with Bookbaby. Although I’d done some educational books for learning disabled kids in the 70’s and 80’s, it was s wonderful feeling to actually do a novel, especially when it got 5 star reviews! But for those of us not “savvy” with social media, marketing has been truly challenging. Perhaps we should get together to work on helping senior writers gain exposure for our work!

  35. I began to seriously write short stories at age 73. In 2016, age 78, two short stories were published through a workshop called Tell Your True Tales run by Sam Quinones, an accomplished Los Angeles Times journalist and author of many books. I was thrilled. I have continued to write some 27 short stories and/or poems and a script. Sam has become successful and is doing his thing and no longer does editing or a workshop. I need an editor to help move me to completion and publish a collection of each! I am seriously thinking of BookBaby if I can wangle the financial end of the program. I do think there is no age for one to write—and it is such a pleasure—too many times people get discouraged and do not enjoy the process of creating/writing. Thank you all for commenting, I have enjoyed reading them.

  36. I wrote my first novel at age 67 after retiring as the CEO of a leading ad agency. Now, 16 years later, book number 8 is about to be published, all of them through BookBaby. It’s been a blessing to discover the joys of fiction writing and have the opportunity to connect with readers around the world . SH-BOOM, my first non-mystery novel, came out late last year. It takes place during the period from 1941 to 1991 and may be of particular interest to others who have lived through those exciting years. If you read it, I’d love to hear from you at don.potter@sbcglobal.net.

  37. I am an 85-year-old writer, whose first novel was published in 2016. I have subsequently published three more, the latest being The Portuguese House, by (pen name: pamela d holloway). Trying to ‘break-in’ to the publishing world has been/ is, a nightmare. I attend as many occasions as possible to market my books and they sell well BUT, to get newspaper or magazine reviews, without paying for them, seems impossible. any advice would be appreciated.

  38. Great topic–I think about it often. I published my first book, a memoir: “The Journey of a Wounded Healer: The Mystical Web of Mental Illness and Spirituality” at 67. While I had started such a book as far back as 1996, it took a life altering mind-body-spirit breakdown in 2013 to get me to put my fingers on my laptop and write. I have not encountered any ageism regarding my book, although I confront stigma regarding mental illness every time I go to an expo or even signing. We all struggle with something. I’m glad I didn’t let age get the better of me–Letting go of the fear of age gave me the courage to do what I needed to do. It’s a niche book, of course, but it’s SLOWLY selling and I hope I make a difference in someone’s life everyday. That’s a gift that comes with age, at least for me.

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