When Are You Too Old to Start Writing?

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Please note: The following is not intended to disparage younger writers. Young people have written some amazing, genre-redefining novels, and I’ve workshopped with some terrific young writers. People hit their stride whenever they hit it; it just takes some of us a little longer.

This piece is to encourage older people who’ve always wanted to pursue a writing career but fear they’ve waited too long. It’s not about tearing anyone else down. 

Except for that writing teacher I mention, because he sucked. Screw him.   

I see the question roll around on Twitter every so often: I’d love to start writing and pursuing publishing seriously, but I’m worried that I’m too old. 

This always makes me sad. One of my least favorite things about getting older is the way the world makes you feel like you’re washed up once you’re on the other side of 40. The “best” years of your life are behind you, who you are is pretty much baked in, and dreams are for the young; go away and stop bothering people with your aged, irrelevant self. I can see why older people might think they’ve waited so long to start writing that nobody wants to hear what they have to say anymore. 

But while the publishing world, like many other industries, likes its hot young discoveries, there’s still room in there for us older types.

I like to offer up my own stats as an example:

When I pursued publication in my early 20s, rude rejection letters and a particularly awful writing teacher ended up killing that drive for a long time. Some people are able to shake that kind of thing off and keep going, but at that age I wasn’t one of them.

But the desire never fully left me, and I completed my first novel when I was 42 during NaNoWriMo. It wasn’t a good novel, but it was the first novel-length work I actually completed. And it laid the groundwork for writing novels that other people actually wanted to read. 

I started submitting short fiction and getting it published when I was 47.

I made my first short fiction pro sale two days before my 52nd birthday. 

I got my first book deal at 50. I’ll be 52 when that novel comes out in 2021.

And I’m just getting started. 

And when I posted those facts on Twitter a while back (except for the pro sale, because that just happened), I heard from people who were considerably older than me when they first started getting published. 

Do I sometimes wonder where my writing career would be now if I hadn’t let the rejections and the dickheads get me down in my early 20s? Of course. 

But I had another problem back then. I was mostly writing and submitting literary fiction, because I’d had it drilled into my head in both high school and college that literary fiction was the only type of fiction worth reading or writing. So that was what I wrote. Writing something like horror? Well, okay, if you wanted to be a hack like that dreadful Stephen King (ptui!). 

No wonder I shelved the idea of being a published author. I was being treated badly over work I didn’t even want to write. 

It took me a while to accept that there was nothing wrong at all with wanting to write horror and dark fantasy. And it took a few life-changing events in my forties for me to develop skin thick enough to pursue that dream. 

So that was my journey. Turns out it wasn’t too late for me even if I hit some delays on the way. 

Just know that as long as you’ve got stories in you to share, it’s not too late for you either. 

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