The people of Write Well, Sell Well are brilliant. Many of them have inspired and helped me in my writing career from its infancy more than 20 years ago through today.
But they may have had a brain cramp.
You see, they invited me to write a periodic column for their blog. They asked me to focus on what it’s like to be an older writer. I’ll be 72 in January.
So this is the first—and maybe the last—of what I’m calling the Old Fart Column. Or: keep moving and don’t look back. They may be gaining on you.
I hope you’ll find encouragement and inspiration from my words. And maybe some humor of the warped variety. Who knows what God has in mind?
My writing career began in my forties when I had this brilliant idea that I could write a novel. I’ve been a reader all my life. I think I was born reading a Batman comic book. I remember thinking, how hard could writing be? You just put one word after another, right?
So I dabbled, as I call it, for about 10 years. I rewrote the first chapter probably 15 times.
Then I got serious. I attended conferences. Read books and magazines on the craft. Joined writers groups. Signed up for the Christian Writers Guild online courses.
I made the time to learn the craft and to practice, practice, practice. Which is another word for revise, revise, revise.
I entered my novel in a contest. This time with an entirely different first chapter. And I won the contest! And my first novel was published when I was 63 years old.
I don’t share this to brag on myself. All I did was type words. God gave the inspiration and the ideas.
I share it to encourage those of you with graying hair and cranky bodies to continue to pursue your writing dreams. And turn the care of it over to God.
I recently attended WriterCon 2019 in Oklahoma City. I was amazed to see a great number of the attendees were my age or older. Many have been writing for years and are still seeking to publish their first book.
Don’t ignore small beginnings. Many writers started in some other forum before they looked to write a book. Some wrote church curriculum, some were journalists, others wrote short stories or poetry. Magazine articles and church newsletters were the route many took. Some, like me, jumped directly into writing novels because that was the burning desire in our hearts.
Here are some examples of when some authors published their first book.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65.
- Frank McCourt was 66 when he published his first book: Angela’s Ashes. And it won the Pulitzer Prize.
- Harriet Doerr published Stones of Ibarra when she was 54 and it won the National Book Award.
- Millard Kaufman, the creator of Mr. Magoo, didn’t publish his first novel, Bowl of Cherries, until he was 90.
- British author Mary Wesley published her first children’s book when she was 57 and her first adult novel when she was 71.
So don’t let the date on your driver’s license frighten you. Ignore the gray-haired face in the mirror and the joints that aren’t as supple as they once were. Ignore the voices in your head that tell you you’re too old to start something new, especially to write.
And sometimes these voices are outside your head in the guise of well-meaning friends and family. Ignore them too. And remind them that if they aren’t nice to you, you’ll put them in your book. And not necessarily in a good way.
As Anne Lamott is quoted as saying, “If my family didn’t want me to write about them, they should have been nicer to me.”
If you want to write, write. Learn the craft. Join writers groups. Attend conferences. Find a mentor.
At our ages, we have a wealth of stories to tell. Stories that will teach, enlighten, encourage, and entertain. Stories that will inspire and bring people closer to God and to what they are called to be. We’ll be sharing wisdom and insight that can impact so many. The world needs to hear our stories. It needs to hear your stories.
Let me close with this. Before my first novel was published, I asked a few friends and fellow writers to read the manuscript and give me feedback to help me make the story better.
One reader pointed out one scene and said, “Whatever you do, don’t take this out of the book. It brought me closer to God.”
And in my heart I heard God. “If your book never gets published, it still achieved my purpose. It brought her closer to me.”