Why It’s Never Too Late to Start Writing

by Ed Davis on November 28, 2014

 Guest Blogger Joe Downing is the author of The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving in the Process and the writer of the blog abundantbohemian.com. 

“No matter what our age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity. ‘I’m too old’ is something we tell ourselves to save ourselves from the emotional costs of the ego deflation involved in being a beginner.”  –Julia Cameron

So many of us are called to write, and so many of us ignore that calling. We’ll get to it someday, we say. And for most of us, that day doesn’t come. But it’s never too late. Whether you are a spunky teen or are already receiving your social security check, it’s time to listen to that inner voice and start writing. You have a story to tell. Many stories, perhaps. What’s holding you back? For most, it’s fear of failure. Fear of being ignored or dismissed. Fear of being vulnerable. Yes, all those are possibilities. But the benefits far outweigh the perceived downsides.

First, creative expression is a reward in itself. Yes, creativity is hard. Anything worthwhile is. But we must choose to engage our creativity instead of following the path of least resistance. In The Courage to Write, Ralph Keyes correctly points out that, “Getting there [writing a novel] isn’t always pleasant. Neither is running in a marathon. Or starring in a play. Or climbing a mountain. All such activities require courage. And all reward those who complete them not only with an unparalleled feeling of achievement but with a thrilling sense of adventure along the way.”

Second, if you don’t “succeed” quickly, it doesn’t necessarily mean your writing lacks merit. The stories we read about “overnight success” make for good copy, but are seldom true. Writing in the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell provides the example of Ben Fountain, who had been an associate in a law firm for several years when he decided he wanted to write fiction. At first he tried to write after he got home from work, but found that he was too tired to do so. He eventually quit his job, set up a rigorous schedule and wrote every day, writing short stories and a novel that he decided wasn’t good enough and put in a drawer. He then wrote a story that was published in Harper’s and that got the attention of an agent, who got him a book deal for a collection of short stories entitled Brief Encounters with Che Guevera. The collection won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award, was named a No. 1 Book Sense Pick, was named one of the best books of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, and Kirkus Reviews. An overnight success story? Not quite. Here is Gladwell:

Ben Fountain’s rise sounds like a familiar story: the young man from the provinces suddenly takes the literary world by storm. But Ben Fountain’s success was far from sudden. He quit his job at Akin, Gump in 1988. For every story he published in those early years, he had at least thirty rejections. The novel that he put away in a drawer took him four years. The dark period lasted for the entire second half of the nineteen-nineties. His breakthrough with “Brief Encounters” came in 2006, eighteen years after he first sat down to write at his kitchen table. The “young” writer from the provinces took the literary world by storm at the age of forty-eight.

Third, many writers achieved success late in life and you can, too. Marilyn French was almost 50 when she published her first novel, The Women’s Room. It sold more than twenty million copies and was translated into twenty languages, and was considered one of the most influential novels of the 2nd wave feminist movement. Poet Charles Bukowski’s first book wasn’t published until he was 49. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first book, Little House in the Big Woods, wasn’t published until she was 65. She went on to write seven (yes, seven! All after the age of 65!) more volumes of her Little House series. Raymond Chandler didn’t publish his first short story until he was 45 and his first novel, The Big Sleep, came out when he was 51. James Michener didn’t write his first novel until age 42 and then produced a gazillion bestsellers before he died at age 90. And older writers have an advantage as well: the benefit of a vast well of life experience to draw upon.

“Life, as it is called, is for most of us one long postponement,” Henry Miller said. Are you postponing your writing? Waiting for more time, the right time, or for the right inspiration? There will never be the perfect time. Now is the day to write.

–Joe Downing





{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanne December 5, 2014 at 12:59 am

Thanks, Joe–and Ed–I needed to hear that!


Valerie March 10, 2015 at 1:21 pm

Thank you for your comments. I always had a little voice during my busy life to write. Always had an excuse not to. Now as I am in my latter years, I am able to take time and have my little voice to be heard. No, it is never too late to have others hear what one has to say.


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