Careers LIFESTYLE  >  Becoming a Writer in Your 50s

Becoming a Writer in Your 50s

Becoming a Writer in Your 50s
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Photo courtesy of Uloop.com

BY ELISABETH DANIELS

When Rebecca Faust got the call that her poem, “Mom’s Canoe,” had taken first place at the 75th Annual Writer’s Digest Contest, she was nearly 50 years old.

Writing wasn’t new to her, but she’d taken a 35-year hiatus from it – until she signed up for a “Life into Literature” class. It met on Friday nights for three months at her local bookstore, and submitting her work to Writers Digest was the final assignment.

Since that momentous phone call, Rebecca’s poems have been extensively published, and she’s won more awards. She even spent a summer at the Frost Place as the Dartmouth Poet in Residence.

Rebecca’s advice for late-blooming writers starts with figuring out why you want to be a writer – and what your goals are. Are you interested in teaching? Do you want to make a living from it? Are literary accolades important to you?

“A lot of people get caught up in the frenzy to publish without stopping to consider why—or if—publishing is even something that furthers their goals,” she says. “If you are interested in teaching, that goal will shape a different course of action than if your goal is to write for income, say, or is mainly creative and artistic.”

Having a goal also carries you through the challenging period before you have any concrete success. Take classes, attend conferences, listen to podcasts … anything you can do to get further along the course you’ve set for yourself. “If you see writing as an art that you are constantly trying to access by improving your craft, it can nourish what I see as a pretty fragile flame always in danger of winking out,” says Rebecca.

Getting an outside opinion of your writing helps, too. Join a critique group for feedback and suggestions. Just remember, not everyone will get your writing. Don’t believe everything you hear, but take it all in and apply what you can.

Although you can’t really be trained as a writer, an MFA might be helpful. For Rebecca, “It forced me to read a great many books with vastly more attention than I’d ever have been able to do on my own.”

She adds, “You just get better at writing by reading widely and critically and then applying what you observe to your own writing.”

For older writers, mindset is critical to success. Don’t give in to the notion that you can’t do as much because you’re older. Rebecca advises, “Just set your goals high and go for it; don’t cut yourself any slack for having started later or for being older.” And understand that you can continue writing well into your later years.

To keep things fresh, Rebecca recommends activities that allow the brain to disengage, like taking walks or driving. “I try never to leave home without my journal or at least index cards and a pencil.”

It may be daunting to start a writing career at 50, but you’ll be joining an elite club. Many of our nation’s most acclaimed authors were in the second halves of their lives when they published their first books. Here’s a partial list:

  • Mystery writer P.D. James published her first novel when she was 42.
  • The Jack Reacher series started with Killing Floor, which was published when author Lee Child was 43.
  • Ian Fleming was 44 when Casino Royale, the first book in the James Bond series, was published.
  • Janet Evanovich started her popular Stephanie Plum series at 51.
  • When The Wind in the Willows was published, author Kenneth Grahame was 49. 
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first book, Little House In The Book Woods, at the age of 64. It became a series of eight books, which has been translated into forty languages!
  • Frank McCourt published Angela’s Ashes, his first book, when he was 66 – after he’d retired.

Callout:  “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King

Callout: “Learn from your flops, ignore dramatic naysayers and milk that life experience.” – Debra Eve

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