Writing is hard work. It eats up huge amounts of time and energy. And when we get rejections , are dealing with long waits, or the wonkiness-in-process just isn’t working out, it can be sooooo tempting to question why we keep doing this to ourselves.
Those days when we think even WTF Press will reject us, when we feel like complete eejits to dare to think we can write, when everyone else but us seems to be getting The Call or at least revise and resubmit letters, it’s easy to get disheartened.
Especially for those of who are older. I’m not going to give away anyone’s secrets, but I’ll just whisper quietly that at least one of the Sassies is over forty. I turn fifty-one this year. Fifty-fricking-one!
Age can seem like a sentence sometimes, as those self-imposed milestones come and go without reaching our goals- published by thirty, published by forty, published by fifty. And we hear the editors say they are looking for fresh new (read young?) voices, compare ourselves to wunderkind like our Maisey with her Call at 23, and wonder if it’s too late for us.
Wonder if it’s worth bothering, if we have anything to offer a genre full of heroines in their twenties. Wonder if the dream of giving up the day job and being a full-time writer is something we can only have once we’re over sixty-five and retired? And then no-one will want to read us unless we switch from writing hot romances to cosy mysteries about retired ladies solving murders while tending their rose gardens?
I need to laugh at myself for that one! Sure, it’s good to start young, but loads of romance writers (and writers of any genre) keep writing long past regular retirement age. Sometimes it’s possible from their style to tell they are an older writer, sometimes there’s no way of knowing if they are twenty-five, forty-five, or sixty-five. It’s all in the attitude, all in the voice.
I do actually think I write more traditional style romances. Maybe instead of targeting Harlequin Mills & Boon I should be aiming at the publishers who do the large print romances for the libraries! But I know other writers older than me who write as sassy as a seventeen year old would, with the added benefit of all that wisdom and life experience.
It really doesn’t matter.
I read here that in the US, the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity is in the 55-64 age group. The 20-34 age bracket, surprisingly, has the lowest rate. Entrepreneurs have a lot in common with writers. Creativity. Thinking differently. A willingness to take risks and face challenges head on.
I’ve seen it said that creativity and imagination drop off after forty. Crap!
There’s good evidence from business and inventions that breakthroughs today come at older ages than they did a century ago, that the older person’s breadth and depth of life experience actually give them more chance of being innovative and original.
Certainly, instead of doubting ourselves because of our age, we should be celebrating what we have to offer.
I did some research, and came up with a long list of writers first published in their forties or later (in some cases, far later!). Many of these went on to have hugely successful careers, not just one book wonders.
Here are a few of them-
- Penelope Fitzgerald- UK Booker prize winner, first novel published at 60
- Laura Ingalls Wilder- wrote a weekly local newspaper column from age 44, but didn’t publish the first of her hugely successful series of autobiographical children’s books until age 55
- Norman McClean published his first book “A River Runs Through It” at 74
- Mary Wesley published 3 children’s books in her late 50′s, then her first adult novel aged 71. She then went on to sell millions of copies of her next nine books
- Karl Marlantes took 35 years writing his acclaimed Vietnam novel, published in his 60′s in 2010
- Harriet Doerr started writing at age 67, her first novel published age 74 was made into a film, Stones of Ibarra. She had two more books published.
- Helen Hooven Santmyer, 88 when her breakout novel, “And the Ladies of the Club” published.
- Richard Adams, 54 when he was first published with Watership Down, and finally was able to become a full-time writer 2 years later.
- Mary Higgins Clark, 48 when her first successful novel was published (after one flop in her early 40′s)
- L M Boston (who lived and wrote in the same village my mother-in-law lives in, in the gorgeous Manor House on the river) ”She was also a natural born writer. It just took her a little time to get her thoughts in order.” Her first book, The Children of Green Knowe, was published at 64. She then had fifteen more books published and huge sales.
- A lot more authors with their first novel published after 40 here- 41 over 40
I couldn’t track down any examples of late blooming romance writers, but they must exist!
Robert Mc Crum in The Guardian says that older writers tend to write best about love-
On the very short list of timeless themes, “love” must come near the top. Experience, plus maturity, mixed with love, can sometimes achieve the most astonishing results.
That’s what I want from my writing, astonishing results. Though some days, even half-decent results would do!
Joe Wallace whose first novel Diamond Ruby was published at 54 wrote-
It took a lot of growing up–and the development of a lot more nerve than I used to have–for me to be able to write a book from the perspective of a teenager. I needed the distance, the experience, the time to write to my ability.
I like that quote. Some of us do need time to truly write to our ability. Some of us need time to grow into the confidence to write the authentic and honest stories we want to write, rather than the stories we think will get us published.
Maisey (I hope she doesn’t mind me using it here, she has a lot more direct experience with editors and publishing than I do yet!) says
The simple truth is this: In this business, like any, there are factors we can control, and factors we can’t. An editor may reject us because of age, or they don’t like our blogs, or our face, or the fact that we use run on sentences as a style choice. (that would be me) They’re human, and while I don’t think it’s rampant, it’s possible for them to have prejudices.
THE ONLY THING we can control is when we write, when we submit, and what we choose to do with successes and setbacks.
I’m going to remind myself of that when the insecurity hits, when those “You’re too old,” and “There’s not enough time left for you to build a career so why bother,” nasty sneaky little voices start to whine in my ear. Ultimately, it’s up to me. Up to me to keep writing. Up to me to keep submitting. Up to me to decide to either rewrite or resub somewhere else when a story gets rejected.
I’m also going to remind myself that “Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly at first.”
That’s for first drafting and for wild loose rewrites. That’s for when I need reminding not to control the writing, not to overplan and second guess and follow the rules too tightly. When I need to remember that in first drafts and first rewrites anything goes, anything has to go, if I want my authentic, creative, and life-experienced voice to shine through!
I sure hope fifty can be the new thirty.
I think I have at least thirty years of productive writing life ahead of me, and fifty years of valuable life experience to mine behind me! One of the things I noticed reading about these older writers was for so many of them, what interesting lives they lived. Maybe that’s the number one thing we can all do for our writing.
Live deep. Live wide. Live emotionally. Live with love.
Then use that, when we come to that blank page.