You’re Never Too Old To Write

elderly man at typewriter proves you're never too old to write

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 on 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 some 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: you’re never too old to write 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 McCourtFrank 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 WilderLaura 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 KaufmanMillard 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, was published towards the end of his life. Entitled Bowl of Cherries, the book came out in 2007, when Kaufman was 90 years old, the ultimate proof that you’re never too old to write.

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

Ulysses S GrantUlysses S. Grant

The 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, created his renowned Personal Memoirs of U. 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 DoerrHarriet 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 FinchTim 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, remember, you’re never too old to write!

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.


Photo credits:
Frank McCourt, photo by Suhanri Simanullang CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, photo by unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Millard Kaufman, photo via YouTube.
Ulysses S. Grant, image available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division.
Harriet Doerr’s image sourced from Wikipedia.
Tim Finch, photo by Nana Varveropoulou via timfinch.info.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. To my friends at BookBaby:I wrote my first Zachary Blake Legal Thriller novel, Betrayal of Faith, at the age of 65. The second novel in the series, Betrayal of Justice, was published by BookBaby. The company is also responsible for the book’s terrific cover. Today, at age 70, I am about to release my 9th full-length novel. I’ve also written 2 children’s books, a cookbook, and a novella. How’s that for my so-called “retirement?” Regards, Mark

  2. I’ve written three full-length stage plays and three novels in my nineties. At 94 two of my novels have been published and I am now working on a novel with one of my sons who is sixty-years-old and a well-established screenwriter. I was a film writer for 64 years, have won many awards and nominations including the WGA’s best written series, Columbo, Gunsmoke and The Fugitive. My children (5) all kid me about one day finding me collapsed over my computer stone-dead. Probably will be true. Check out my full credits on IMDB.

  3. It’s great to read about writers who continue to publish into their senior years. They are part of a growing treasury of older people who I call “productive seniors.” Their years of life experiences are a wealth of information and encouragement for the generations behind them. At 87, I currently have six published books with number seven planned for this coming year (2023). These all were written since my retirement in 1995. I have discovered that writing is one of the valuable elements in keeping the mind young, curious, flexible, and passionate. It is my desire to have those who are older write, whether they publish or not. Their families and friends need to know the legacy of their life, even if that legacy ends up in a three-hole binder. Writing is a must!

  4. I’ll be 77 in two months. What I’m writing has been in development for about forty years. I could never understand how on earth Christianity could have developed out of Judaism. I got an M.A. in philosophy, I’ve been speaking with Jews and Christians for decades, attended lectures and debates (or watched them online), attended conferences featuring Dead Sea Scroll and New Testament scholars, watched a great number of documentaries, and I have read both criticisms of Christianity and works by serious Christians. I kept up with news about how fundamentalism had grown in the United States and elsewhere. Throughout all of this, my own personal views had to shift over and over and, only now, it seems to me, have worked out my views in my 160-page book. Writing the conclusion now. I hope I live long enough to finish the process.

  5. I am a 65-yr.-old mother of 6 and grandmother to 15 (newest one born just yesterday!). I hope to finish and publish a book I started writing for my grandchildren (and other children) while there is time and I am able. My large family and other personal activities and projects keep me busy even though I’ve retired from the workforce. I often feel the pressure of time passing quickly, which can be discouraging. These testimonies give me hope and encouragement. Although I try not to take time and health for granted, I believe I can still accomplish my goal. Thank you!

  6. In the eighth grade I was assigned the take of writing a short story. I was terrified and unable to find a subject to write about. I told the teacher I couldn’t think of anything worth writing. She kindly suggested I do something I like to do, so I sat down and wrote “Kevin’s Quest,” a full three pages. Afterword, I was immensely pleased with my short book. (Also got and A on it). I found it was a fun and rewarding project and swore that “someday” write a large book to share with others. Time rolled on and I gathered a wife, children, and a home and the usual trappings of life.
    At age 63 I retired and got tired fishing and oil painting and decided to create a large non-fiction book (382 pages) with beautiful pictures I had taken over fifty years. That book is called “In The Shadow Of Crown Mountain.” It was a lot of work, but a labor of love, so I started my second book, a fiction work “The Perils of Being A Fly-tying Addict.” It was more fun and less laborious to write. I am now well into writing a large fiction novel, “The Patches Enigma.” Message to other potential authors is never give up, try it and keep at it and you will find it rewarding.
    Enjoy!

  7. I’m 78 and have published 10 books in the past 5 years (several through BookBaby, plus one traditionally published)–and two more are in the works, with more planned. Life is good.

  8. I’m 78. My first book was published in August 2021. It was a collection of four short stories. The second book, again a collection of short stories, this time with six stories, was released this past September. Both books were self-published through BookBaby services. I just finished the manuscript for the third book. I plan to release it next summer and a book a year thereafter. I’m a retired CPA and enjoy this new challenge. I should have started writing earlier, but I am sure that it’s not too late.

  9. I just borrow a book from the library just published in August 2022. “Cat Brushing” by Jane Campbell. A debut novel by an 80 year-old woman. Gave me inspiration at age 74! I can still do it!

  10. Nancy Rowe Duncan

    I’m 66 and published my first novella a little over a year ago. I’m so glad I chose to self-publish my first major work because I wanted it to remain ALL MINE, my choices entirely. My tribe has found me, and my book is enjoying success!

  11. I’m 69 and will have my first book of short stories published by Kindle in early December. But I’ve been writing for years, songs and stories. Joining a writer’s group here in Jacksonville has allowed me to sharpen my prose writing without intention.

  12. I was a late bloomer when it came to being published. I had my first published short story at 40, my first book at 50, and to date, I have five books out with two more coming in 2023!
    It’s never too late to find your moxie and live your dreams!

  13. I’m 71 7/12 years old, Mr Gallant, and appreciate your eyes-wide-open post more than you’ll ever know. Deepest thanks.
    In our modern, inclusive, so-called ‘politically correct” world, ageism is alive and well on all fronts. If there’s one group of writers today who are rarely (never) mentioned, much less encouraged, it has to be first time authors of 65+.
    I get it…if I wanted to be a writer all my life, why didn’t I just do it?
    Good question. Life got in the way, and you know how hectic that can get. You’re running around from one job to another, scrambling for dollars and poof! Never enough time or money to just say, “This is it! It’s now or never.”
    Next thing you know 40 or 50 years have just zipped on by before you know it.
    Ah, but now our larder’s well-stocked and I’ve free time to conjure. After all, I have a lifetime of delicious nouns and meaty verbs, patently waiting in the wings like loyal dogs.
    “Release the hounds!”
    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
    Cheers!

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