Writing Is an Ageless Pursuit

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Age has many limitations in our society, including those professions in which age limits are an impediment by custom or law. The mandatory retirement age for an airline pilot in the U.S., for instance, is 65. Other jobs where wits and reaction time are critical include state and local police (generally 55-60) and air traffic controllers (56). Laws against age discrimination are in the books, although retirement is often considered customary in certain professions.

Writing is one endeavor, however, for which you won’t be prematurely forced into retirement or subjected to age discrimination. In fact, many writers flourish in extended careers and find that their experiences and perspective are valued.

And when it comes to writing a book, age has no limit. It’s never too late to become an author. In fact, some of the most-esteemed writers got a late start in life, including the following examples.

Successful writers who started late in life

J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t publish The Hobbit until he was 45, but it skyrocketed him to superstar superstar status, later penning The Lord of the Rings, which established him as a leading master of fantasy. Rights for J.R.R. Tolkien’s works passed through many hands and eventually spawned record-setting films. Amazon has purchased rights to make a prequel set in the Middle-Earth, which has entered its second season, although the stories are not based on any actual Tolkien stories.

At age 57, Annie Proulx achieved recognition for her first two novels, Postcards and The Shipping News. Postcards won the PEN/Faulkner award, a rare occurrence for a female writer, and The Shipping News won both the Pulitzer Prize and the U.S. National Book Award for fiction. The lead story in the short story collection Brokeback Mountain was adapted to film, directed by Ang Lee and starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Distraught by the death of his wife after 67 years of marriage, Harry Bernstein spent his energies writing a book, The Invisible Wall, when he was 93 years old. It was published when he was 96. Depicting a working-class life and the social divides between Christian and Jewish communities, the story is staged at the beginning of the first World War. It’s a true story based on the experiences of his sister and the antisemitism she encountered from her romance with a Christian. Bernstein wrote three more books before his death at age 101; the last was published posthumously.

Frank McCourt won the Pulitzer Prize for his memoir, Angela’s Ashes, which was published when he was 66. Based on a tragic-comic view of his childhood in Ireland and Brooklyn, the book also garnered the National Book Critics Circle Award. McCourt authored a follow-up to Angela’s Ashes titled ‘Tis, which chronicles his life when he returned to New York, as well as many other autobiographical and semi-autobiographical books during his life.

Raymond Chandler gained notice in the publishing world at the age of 51 when his droll, wisecracking hero Philip Marlow became the protagonist of a series of hard-boiled detective novels. Numerous film adaptions have been based on the character of a Marlow. All of Chandler’s books remain in print, including Farewell My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1941), The Lady in the Lake (1943), The Little Sister (1949), The Long Goodbye (1953), and Playback (1958). Chandler’s distinctive style influenced a legion of writers in the genre, including Robert B. Parker, Ian Fleming, Sara Paretsky, and others.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing books at age 65 and penned the popular children’s series, Little House on the Prairie, based loosely on her own family’s pioneering experiences. Early on, she was invited to submit an article to The Missouri Ruralist, and the popularity of her writing gained her a permanent position as a columnist and editor. She advanced from writing for farm papers to publishing success. Her numerous books grew around her semi-autobiographical experiences of events such as The Great Depression, rural life, and personal reminiscences.

Extended careers for writers

Certain writers gain their stride as they age, continuing with a string of novels or stories, often continuing to write for as long as they are active. This impressive longevity shows that writing is a craft which improves with time, gaining momentum as the author gathers experience.

Over nearly 60 years of writing speculative fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin penned more than twenty novels and some one hundred plus short stories, earning her eight Hugo awards, six Nebula awards, and 24 Locus awards. She was consistently productive, garnering a final Hugo award a year after her death. Her first published work was in 1958 and she continued to write until her passing in 2018.

Ray Bradbury continued writing until the end of his life, despite a stroke that he suffered in 1999, which left him wheelchair bound. An essay that he published just before he passed touched on a heartfelt topic: inspirations for writing. The Last Interview, published by The New Yorker ,spoke of his love of libraries and the books that fueled his creativity. Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury’s acclaimed dystopian novel, is a fitting bookend to his career and an appropriate cautionary tale in which books are collected and burned. His legacy includes more than 27 novels and story collections with more than eight million copies sold.

Agatha Christie, noted detective novelist and playwright, continued her writing career into her 80s. Her last written novel was Postern of Fate in 1973; it was successful commercially, as most of her novels were. Christie ranks as the top-selling fiction writer of all time, as attributed by the Guinness World Records.

Stephen King shows no sign of slowing down at age 76, with a new short story collection recently published, You Like It Darker. King has written over 65 novels and novellas, more than 200 short stories, and 5 non-fiction titles.

It’s not too late to write a book

If you’re thinking you’re too old to become an author through self-publishing, think again. It’s never too late to write a book, and these many famous success stories prove just that.

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