Becoming a Writer in Your 40s, 50s, and Beyond

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by Lauren Sapala

Age can be a touchy topic for artists of all types. There’s a glamorous myth that says all the geniuses come into their talent at a young age, and by the time they’re 30 they have already reached astonishing heights of prowess.

But like so many other sexy tales that figure into writing mythology, this one has little basis in fact.

Yes, there are examples of young writers who wrote their masterpiece in their 20s, but there are also countless other examples of writers who didn’t even put pen to page until after the age of 40. Most of my clients, in fact, are over the age of 40. Through my experiences in coaching these writers who didn’t discover their true passion until later in life I’ve identified three different types. Which one are you?

Reunited—and It Feels So Good
This type of writer usually wrote a lot in her youth. She may even have won awards or gained recognition for her early writing. But somewhere along the way she got lost. Maybe it was a bad relationship, or a demanding career that offered money too good to pass up, but somewhere between her teenage years and her current day reality, she stopped writing. And after so much time passed, she resigned herself to the possibility being lost forever.

But then, life surprises her. And this time it isn’t with a bad relationship or crazy-making career, it’s with an opportunity to start writing again. This type of writer finds herself completely and unexpectedly immersed in writing her book, finally.  She might be 45 or 60, but she feels like a teenager again. Everything about this process is new. And a little scary.

Nursing a Secret Flame
This is the writer who always keeps a journal, no matter what.  He might have long ago stopped writing stories and coming up with plots for an actual audience to enjoy, but he still jots down his thoughts and musings occasionally. This writer has usually gone through a lot of stop-and-go attempts, starting a few different things over the years but never finishing them. He also continues to read avidly and has a mile-long list of writers he admires. Of all the types, this type of writer experiences the most mental anguish. Because he never stops beating himself up for not writing.

From what I’ve seen, the Secret Flames do best if they have external support. Joining a writing group, hiring a writing coach, or even just enlisting one person as a writing partner who will commit to showing up at the local Starbucks with them to write once a week—these are all options that have the power to pull the Secret Flame out of his writing funk and get him back on track with writing. The support for this type is crucial. Because they suffer the most from self-doubt, even when they start writing again they’re terrified that it won’t last.

Never Saw It Coming
These writers spend most of their lives engaged in other professions, usually careers that have little to do with creative writing. Engineers, forest rangers, politicians, healthcare workers, they come from all over the spectrum. Much of the time this type of writer has reached retirement age and is beginning to look back on her long, extremely adventurous life. She’s always had this tickle in the back of her mind that maybe someday she would write it all down. And now someday has come.

Interestingly, this type of writer is most likely to be over the age of 60, and also most likely to do really well with social media, blogging, website design, and self-publishing. It’s like writing the book opened up the floodgates of courage in their hearts and now they’re ready to tackle anything.

I’ve also noticed that intuitive writers tend to start writing later in life and I have my own theory on this. I believe that the intuitive personality takes a little longer to develop, as we gather so much of our information about the world through our intuition, which can’t be rushed. I talk about this in-depth in my book, The INFJ Writer:

“This is why many writers don’t get their start on writing until later in life. They’re waiting for their World Theory to fully coalesce and mature. Whether…writing a literary novel, or a work of nonfiction, it’s probable that the writing is focusing on people in some way. How certain characters react in different situations, or why people in real life do the things they do. Most [writers] are extremely interested in psychology and human behavior. This is reflected in the writing work they put out into the world. And the sum total of all they’ve observed and analyzed is contained in their World Theory.”

 

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Lauren Sapala. Lauren is a writing coach who specializes in personal growth and artistic development for introverted intuitive writers. She is the author of The INFJ Writer and currently blogs on writing, creativity and personality theory at www.laurensapala.com. She lives in San Francisco.

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51 thoughts on “Becoming a Writer in Your 40s, 50s, and Beyond”

  1. Lauren, You really hit the nail on the head with this one in respects to me. As a child and teen, I would write short stories. My career path took me to the role of a cardiac RN. At the age of 58 I started my debut novel, released it in 2008, won an IPPY for that novel, and have since released 5 books, 2 of which are cookbooks, won other awards and been a guest on radio shows.

    Though most of my life my analytical brain ruled, now my creative side has taken over. I don’t have the longevity to write massive numbers of books, but I feel my flower has finally bloomed.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. It good to read a post about older writers and authors. I didn’t start writing until I was in my fifties and didn’t publish anything until I was seventy. I started the creative process with art courses and dabbled with writing. I put all my efforts into learning art techniques first and then started to process writing techniques through courses and then books.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. “Never Saw it Coming” here. 🙂 I never wrote anything that wasn’t a school assignment (though I was good at those) until my late 30s when Doctor Who propelled me head-over-heels into the world of fan fiction, and from there to my own original work. It’s a fun ride so far!

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  4. Definitely ‘Never Saw it Coming!’
    I’ve been writing most of my life but publishing never entered my thoughts until 2015 when I was well past 50.

    I also believe ’empty nest’ syndrome and relocating to a state where I knew no one other than family inspired me to try something new.

    Great post! 👍

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  5. YES! This is very on point, I love it! I’m currently doing a Beta Read for a debut novel, and the writer is in her late 40s… So much that you wrote about here fits her! Her story is beautiful and her writing is to die for! She let writing go at a young age when life happened, as do many. She was recently remarried and her new husband encouraged her to pick it back up, as writing was such a positive passion for her. Thank you for this post, its great!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. In mid-January, at a local animecon (Ohayocon), I prepared to host a panel on ‘Creative Writing & Self-Publishing;’ it was Friday afternoon and a mile from the rest of the ‘con. I was expecting five people; I’d handbill copies for fifteen.

    When I stood and began to speak, it was SRO with over fifty people. My opening remark was: “…until I was 47.5 years old, when I wrote and coded my visual novel, I’d never written a single piece of fiction nor non-fiction…only what first teachers, and later, bosses, told me to!”

    I’d thought that a throwaway-line as part of my opening. But, right after saying it, the mood in the crowd was different: expectant; eager. Almost as if: ‘if this middle-aged ofay can write SF and self-publish, why the hell can’t I?’

    Thanks be to God, but that was exactly what I wanted them to think!

    I’ll be fifty-one in six months, with three traditional novels, three visual novels, one children’s book. What in the world happened to me in the last three years? No matter: how can I show and teach that to others in the time I’ve left? My rural county library has a ‘local author book fair’ in April, that’s another route.

    We all have such dreams, so many minds to reach; these days, it’s so easy and inexpensive! Sharing our experience can be almost as important as sharing our stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It makes sense to write when you are older, you have the experience, greater knowledge of the world. Have you noticed how many jobs some of the better known authors have had before a literary career? Most of them!

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  8. I am a writer who started in her 60’s and your description of the Intuitive Writer fits me to a T. I am definitely going to look into your book and I would like to invite you to post this article at the Senior Salon tomorrow. I am sure that a lot of the participants with a “little silver in their hair” would be interested.

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  9. At 83, I’ll publish my first book in March, a memoir that solves the secrets of an unusual family history. A proverbial “late bloomer” I’m decidedly a Never Saw It Coming.
    You are right. I have a website, blog, etc., but find that many of my contemporaries don’t use computers. I’ve written two unpublished novels. At my age I’ve learned to persevere. If you don’t keep learning and trying you may as well give up!

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  10. This write-up sounds so much like me. I was shaking my head, and smiling as I read along. I was in my 60s when I started writing again. That was a gap of 30 years from my first published books. So true! 🙂

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  11. I began writing in my 20s, then a relationship break up where my other half cited my ‘scribbling’ as one of the causes for ending it really knocked me back. It took me many years to ‘get back in the saddle’ but I’m glad I did as I’m currently writing my eighth novel. And if we are looking at age, one of my favourite authors, Mary Wesley, didn’t have her first novel published until she was 75!

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  12. LOL! Interesting article. I guess that makes me an oddball (what else is new?), since I spent 40+ years writing professionally in advertising. Didn’t really start doing my own writing until after I retired.

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  13. Have to confess that I was 62 when I wrote my first short story. I now have 12 Novellas & shorts as e-books on Amazon. I also have 12 erotic short stories on Smashwords under another name. Never the twain shall meet etc. Having worked in the banking industry forever I sincerely believe that my imagination only woke up some years after I retired. Good luck to all I say, you never know until you try.

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  14. Well, if I ever do write any kind of book, it will certainly be when I’m in my fifties (or older). That’s just what happens when you’ve been around a while and don’t have a time machine.

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  15. Glad to come across this. I’m an INFJ and came to wriitng in my late forties, early fifties, sparked off by a degree in humanities where I studed literature as a mature student. I wouldn’t have had the insight or the confidence to write earlier in my life, but I did become an artist first, again, later in life. I went back to my inner creative nature. Lovely post which has triggered so many great responses.

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  16. I think i’m the last type you mention, since I’m of that well-seasoned age group… but I’m partly in your first description as well. As a kid, I used to dabble. In fact one of my great joys was being crowned – with a real (albeit paper) crown – “Queen of the Composition” one day, when the head of the school board’s English Department paid my 4th-grade class a visit, and ordered us all to write something. I completely forget what the hell I wrote, but that crown? Etched in my memory forever!” Very cool post!

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  17. Interesting. I’m an INFJ writer, too, and I didn’t start until I turned fifty, although looking back, my forties would have probably worked, too.

    But I didn’t have anything I felt was worth publishing until then. 🙂

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  18. I’m 63 and although I published my first professional article in 1989 (thrilled), it was only after a signifcant personal loss I began “writing.” Since then I’ve had numerous stories published and am working on a novel and short story collection. When you’re younger, the business of life tends to get in the way. Age brings wisdom and more time, but then with it comes other issues. I guess it really boils down to priorities. Will see where the next years take me. @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

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