Are you too old for a writing career?

Here’s a question. It bugs me. Perhaps it bugs you too. I’m well past my first flush of youth, and life passes at a terrifying lightning pace. Do you feel that there’s not enough time left to accomplish all your goals? Do you feel that, (being realistic, not sexist), as a woman, you get far too little time to write? Is it any easier if you’re male?

I’ve read about writers with young children who can tap out the words on the kitchen table while havoc rules the house. That’s some of you. That’s not me. I like to shut myself away when I write, or take myself off to a cafe or library.

An author I greatly admire, Virginia Woolf, said in her essay, A room of one’s own, (free e-book link), ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ I’ll be fine when the remodelling is done, but up till now, I’ve made do.

How do you sit with that one?

No question we’re living in a youth-obsessed society. We celebrate and idolize young people who succeed in sports, business, and the arts. Facebook and Twitter feeds go viral with videos of impossibly young people doing impossibly impressive things. It stands to reason that we writers – who are, let’s face it, an insecure species, might feel some pressure to succeed before… well, before it’s too late.

Tick! Tick! Tick!

Bottom line, once you’re into your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s even, and have not yet been published – or perhaps have not yet finished your first book — age  becomes an increasing concern. Wracked with insecurity, we ask ourselves:

Is it too late? Am I too old to be published? Did I miss my shot?


Some say not as much as you think. But ageism is real. It exerts pressure on us in many aspects of our lives. But does it have to have that big an effect on us as writers? Maybe there actually are advantages to being an older writer. Huh? Say again!


The Shell SeekersThey actually occasionally have panels at writing conferences with discussions such as “Debuting Over 40.” And if you look around at conferences, not everyone is young and incredibly attractive. Some are even older that we are!

I’m a big fan of Rosamunde Pilcher who successfully debuted at…80!! (After a successful media career). And if you check the link you’ll see she went on to write copious novels, most of which I’ve read.

So…is there any advantage to debuting after 40?

I don’t know about you. I always knew I was going to be a writer, but I struggled to find my writing voice in my 20s and 30s. I’d send off submissions to magazines and they told me to keep going which was all the encouragement I needed. But I felt I lacked life experience, so back to university for another course or two…then marriage and children and a teaching career,,,pens away for quite a few years.

By the time we sit down and seriously write, many of us have been through some pretty major highs and lows: illness, death, war, job failures and successes, raising children, moving house, time in the ‘clink’, a bad relationship – or two, or three, or four. All of this informs our world view, along with our writing.

I’m not putting down people who have been roaring successes at an early age – from Mary Shelley to Norman Mailer to the Beatles. Some people have already lived extraordinary lives before they’re 20, or are incredibly talented or got the breaks. But I think the average 40-year-old has a deeper emotional well to draw from than the average 20-something.
But beyond life experience, there are other advantages to being an older writer. Maybe you have developed some deep expertise that you can use in your storytelling like Tom Clancy with his techie details to essentially create a new genre of thriller. (BTW, he was in his late 30s when he debuted.) Perhaps your experiences, expertise and social connections have given you a basis for the dreaded P word: platform. You also might have more savvy business skills, and therefore better equipped for the unique challenges and hurdles you’ll face in the ever-changing business of publishing.
Seeing headlines about yet another 20-something wunderkind who just signed a bazillion-dollar book deal can be daunting (okay, even flat-out soul-crushing, and insecurity inducing). But if you started later – or who are simply taking longer to get where you want to go – give yourself a break. Instead of worrying about being too old, try thinking of yourself as aging like a fine wine.

Love that image!


Beauty is an advantage in ALL aspects of life – that’s just a given. But I think it’s different for writers. Here’s why: unlike other areas of the arts – particularly music, TV and film – writers are not under as much pressure to be young and beautiful. That’s because the focus is not so much on what writers look like as on the stories that they create. Sure, youth, beauty and charisma can help a writer, and some publishers can be swayed by a pretty young face, but it’s generally understood that most writers are behind-the-scenes people, not rock stars.
Think about it.

Nora Roberts is a chain-smoking 65-year-old grandmother.
Clive Cussler is 84 and people still buy his books, even though now ghost writers do the writing, I hear.
Janet Evanovich is 72
James Patterson is 68.

Readers don’t seem to think any of them are too old to write something they’d like to read. And Patterson published his first novel at the age of 29, but he didn’t quit his day job and start writing full time until he was 49.

So…if you’re young and gorgeous, work it. Absolutely. If you’re old and gorgeous, work it. But if you don’t consider yourself gorgeous, don’t write yourself off. Your STORY is what’s important.
Here are some great links I found when researching for this article:

It’s Never Too Late: On Becoming a Writer at 50

  • How about you? Are you young, gorgeous and a successful author?
  • Do you sometimes wonder if it’s worth trying to have a successful writing career?
  • Do you think age matters if you’re a writer?
  • If you’re a successful mature writer, do you have any tips for those less successful than you are?