Is It Too Late to Start Writing After 50?

is it too late to start writing

Today’s guest post is by author and physician executive Julie Rosenberg.


I have always wanted to write a book.

I grew up with a father who was an English professor and a high school principal. He stressed four things to his two daughters:

  1. Learn to stand on your own two feet.
  2. Pursue a career that you love and don’t let others dissuade you.
  3. Choose to meet the obstacles that you will face head-on.
  4. Learn to read, write, and speak well. He told us these abilities would serve us in all situations and in any career.

I have come to recognize in the intervening years that he was absolutely right.

By fourth grade, I was a passionate reader. I would wake before dawn and sit at the kitchen table, devouring Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series and the Nancy Drew series. As I grew older, I started writing some short stories of my own. In high school, I loved taking English classes. I wrote (and re-wrote) paper after paper to make them better. It was grueling work—particularly since I attended high school prior to the widespread availability and use of computers and so all of my papers were typewritten. Still, I had always excelled at and enjoyed science as well and, by graduation, I knew that I would pursue a career in medicine.

Although I had to make sacrifices to pursue a medical career—including putting aside any immediate literary aspirations— I have never regretted my decision to become a physician. This choice has given me great opportunities to serve patients in a variety of ways for the past 25 years. And it turned out that language and writing have actually been a central part of my career in medicine. In the past, health consumers had to rely primarily on their physicians in order to receive health-related information, but now 21st-century patients can access health information with just the tap of a button. Writing has allowed me to translate medical information and scientific research into clear health messages and, by so doing, I have been able to empower patients to make more informed decisions regarding their healthcare decisions.

Today, I am over age 50 with a full-time career in a demanding corporate role. It may seem to some like far from the ideal time to write a book. In fact, several family members and friends told me that I was nothing short of crazy when I mentioned my book idea. The wider literary world is so focused on the up and comers, with the National Book Foundation recognizing “5 Under 35” and the New York Public Library’s selecting their “Young Lions.” And yet, I believe—and I’m living proof myself—that one can have a very successful writing career later in life. I also believe that doing something new later in one’s career helps to keep you young.

Beyond the MatMy forthcoming book is the result of the observations and learnings from my life in corporate America as a physician executive working in global roles and my years as a yoga practitioner and instructor. It is the culmination of many years of observation, an assimilation of information and professional experience. I would not have been able to write it earlier in my life.

Setting about a writing career later in life is a different process than it is for those just beginning a career. I am fortunate to be considered successful by most standards, as I have a medical degree and good business acumen, and I have climbed the corporate ladder to a high-ranking role in a male-dominated business environment. As a writer, I am starting from scratch. I have been building my social network from the ground up (I was not previously a regular user of any social media forum) and working to get the attention of influential people to whom I may be viewed as “just” a first-time author. I lecture regularly to large groups, and I have been a keynote speaker for corporations, patient forums, and premier health spas. Now, in support of my book, I am faced with the task of asking independent bookstores to schedule events for an unknown author without any kind of sales track record. It has not been easy to start again in this way; it has been a humbling experience, to say the least. But I have been gratified by the support of many wonderful people in a variety of disciplines along this journey. In addition, I have learned to speak a new language—that of publishing!

I am also better prepared for this journey than my younger self may have been. The depth of my experiences—both personally and professionally—have informed my world view and, with it, my writing. The sum of my experiences and expertise allowed me to see the societal need for the book that I wanted to write and the platform that I planned to create. Given my business experiences, l found myself reasonably well-equipped to handle the challenges of the business of publishing. I have always been bold, and I learned at an early age to ask for what I want. In my corporate career, I learned when to push back if I get a “no” and to shoot for the moon.

These instincts have served me well in terms of getting information about my book out there to the wider world. Most of all, writing the book has had rewards that I never would have experienced had I not written it. Even pre-publication, I have been overwhelmed by the incredible early endorsements and praise I’ve gotten and by the feedback I’ve received from my blogging and my introduction to communities that have supported me and the book. It’s an encouraging glimpse at the positive impact that my new book will have in helping people to enhance their lives and maintain good health and well-being in these times of busyness and uncertainty. I’ve found a new sense of purpose in my life, and a way to pay it forward by helping people to lead their best lives. I view my book as “preventive medicine” for everyone.

In the words of Henry Ford, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” So keep learning. Take a risk. Try something new. Believe in yourself. Think positively. Think about what all the wisdom of your years makes you uniquely positioned to write about.

And, most of all, don’t use age as an excuse. It’s not your age, it’s your story and your message that are important to your readers.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Guest Post.
Julie Rosenberg

Julie Rosenberg

Julie Rosenberg, MD is a physician executive and experienced healthcare leader who oversees global drug development programs in the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, Julie has devoted the last 15 years to the in-depth study and practice of yoga. She received her advanced teaching certification from Down Under Yoga in Boston in 2015. Julie views yoga as preventive medicine. She teaches yoga primarily “beyond the mat,” helping individuals and groups to apply the principles and practice of yoga to their daily lives and to support their overall health and well-being, to achieve greater success, and to become more effective leaders. Her first book—Beyond the Mat: Achieve Focus, Presence, and Enlightened Leadership Through the Principles and Practice of Yoga—is published by Da Capo/Hachette Books (2017). For more information, visit her website.

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61 Comments on "Is It Too Late to Start Writing After 50?"

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Jeanne

Annie Proulx didn’t start writing till she was 58.

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from actress Carol Matthau: “There is no old age. There is, as there always was, just you.”

Age isn’t a reason not to write. It’s just an excuse.

Lynne Spreen

I didn’t know that about Annie Proulx. Be still my heart!! My copy of The Shipping News will forever live on my bookshelf. Thanks for that mood-boost, Jeanne.

Ellen

I didn’t know that about Annie Proulx either. As someone who is trying to write her first novel in her 50s, it’s very encouraging to read about other folks who have done the same thing.

Vicki Weisfeld

The story a writer tells may be what’s important to readers, as Rosenberg says, but will they get the chance to tell it? I wonder whether agents–many of whom are young–and publishers looking for authors whose careers they can invest in feel the same. Older “new” writers I’ve met feel they get short shrift.

Jeff Shear

You’re so right. I came across this item recently, and I think it says something important: Think first of yourself as a story teller … https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/pixar/storytelling/we-are-all-storytellers/a/glossary

Pam Rauber
I’m glad you point this out. There is a vast difference in non-fiction, self-help books and fiction where I think ageism exists to a small degree. Last year I attended a Writers’ Conference. A thirty-five ish publisher stood before a sea of white-haired septuagenarians, a few octogenarians. The young editor published Southern Literature. The topic was Query. The audience didn’t like the idea of querying. I get the part of snappy subject lines to grab attention considering editors receive a thousand queries a day. A woman I knew to be age seventy-five asked. “Do you publish stories written by people… Read more »
Rasana Atreya

I was in a private conversation with a member of the Internet Writing Workshop some time ago. I was feeling sorry for myself that my first book would be published only after I turned 40. He told me his own story, about how the internet had changed his life post-retirement – he had started writing stories in his 80s. He ended the email with – “quit your whining, girl!”

Best advice I ever received.

Jeff Shear
It’s often said writers peak at age 50. That may be true. It may also be true that full-on writers exhaust their best ideas after a certain who-knows-what age. Their enthusiasm evaporates. Writing doesn’t get easier, and a writer’s last success guarantees nothing going forward. What then of the writer who comes to the game late, age 60 or 70? The situation and the challenges change. I would suggest that it all comes down to passion. Can an aging tyro gut out the apprenticeship phase of writing? Does the word “career” apply in the case of an older writer? And… Read more »
Wally Bock

I don’t know about fiction writers, but I think that many people who write nonfiction are just beginning to hit their stride at 50. I coach people who write business books. About half of them began writing their first book after fifty. They bring something younger writers can’t: life experience. That experience finds its way into their books, their discipline, and their willingness to work to shape and polish their work.

Florence Osmund
I’m living proof that it’s not too late to start writing after 50—after spending a long career working in corporate America, I published my first book at 62 and am currently working on numbers six and seven. I’m currently 68. I agree that starting a writing career later in life is a different process than it is for those just beginning their career. In some ways it’s easier because you have all that life experience to help you create stories (if you write fiction). In other respects, it’s harder—teaching an old dog new tricks and all that. All I know… Read more »
Bryan Fagan
Wow – Where do I start. I am 55 years old. My editor and I put the finishing touches on my first novel. There is no way I could have done this in my 20’s or maybe my 30’s. My mind was always elsewhere. My work ethic would have been poor. Plus, I had yet to experience all the things I have now. I was raised by my grandparents . I experienced the pain of watching them die. I fell in love and married my best friend. I held a baby in my arms and learned to be a father.… Read more »
Diann

I started writing at age 68, and have since published two novels and am working on a third. It’s been lots of fun, a great creative exercise and I’ve learned so much!

Lynne Spreen
Congratulations, Julie! You were already a success, and now you’ll be even more of one. As for the title of your post, I published my first book at 58, fiction; it won honorable mention in women’s issues in a national contest. I’ve now done two others and am about to finish the next. Then I’m going to start a silver romance series. I intend to write until they have to pry my cold, dead hands from my keyboard, and many of us silverhairs are jumping into pubbing with both feet. In some ways, you have it easier than I did;… Read more »
Darby Karchut

This is a great article! “It’s not your age, it’s your story…” Love that. I was 51 when I started writing – it was the perfect time for me.

Robin E. Mason

with a brand new degree in interior design and no brand new career in interior design, i started writing four years ago at the age of 54. and tomorrow i launch my fifth book. while i sometimes wonder if i might not have had scores of books under my belt by now had i started writing earlier, i think my writing is stronger for my life experience. (not to mention the confidence i didn’t have in younger years)

Janie Chang

Thank you for this, Julie. I’m always telling people that if they have a story to tell, do whatever it takes to tell it. Change your schedule to make time for writing, take that creative writing course. Because the alternative is to be sitting in your rocking chair when it really IS too late, wishing you’d done something sooner. If all goes well with the current writing schedule, my third novel will published when I’m 59. The first came out when I was 53.

Barbara Frank

Thank you for this awesome post! I tried writing in my 20s, before I had kids. I was just spinning my wheels, no life experience. Then I spent 30 years raising kids (including one with special needs), running a few businesses, blogging…now I’m pushing 60, have a dozen books out (under my own name and a pen name) with thousands of sales, and more future book ideas than I know what to do with. I’ve only just begun! And so have you, fellow seniors.

Paula Prober

I started dancing the Argentine tango at 47, started blogging at 62, and had my first book published by a small press at 64. It’s never too late.

Barb

The real question may be, is it too early to start writing before 50?

Ernie Zelinski

The dog too old to learn new tricks always has been.

Nigel Kemp
Is it too late to write after fifty? I would like to answer this with two questions of my own. 1, who said it is too late? and 2, it is NEVER too late to write. I have been writing since my early twenties and producing in the adult sense since my early thirties. I am now sixty four (yes, 64) and I am still writing even though I have never been published. This means one of a number of things of course. The publishers/agents are blind and don’t know what they are talking about (possibly). I am a rubbish… Read more »
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Rita Sommers-Flanagan

As Richard Hugo once said, writers write because they have to. I think the urge knows no age limits. Definitions of success, or even of “being published” have blurred. At the most basic level, the human capacity to move the abstract and private synaptic firings into words is a miracle of consciousness. That should be enough.

Michael LaRocca, Technical Editor
Regardless of when an author begins writing, they usually do their best writing after 50. The key, I think, is that an author who doesn’t enjoy reading will never write something that somebody else will enjoy reading. So if you spend a lifetime as an avid reader, you unconsciously internalize what does and doesn’t work. Then, whenever you start writing, you don’t make the usual rookie mistakes. It’s just a matter of developing the habits and discipline required to produce a book-length manuscript. Nobody ever learns “how to write a novel” anyway. They learn how to write the novel they’re… Read more »
Linda

I self-published my first book, a cozy mystery, just after my 70th birthday. I tried the traditional publishing route with no success. It did fairly well in the beginning, but my weak area is social media. I just don’t have the numbers, and I was at a loss as to how to promote it. I’ve had such kind comments and reviews, and some have said they are looking forward to a sequel. However, I just don’t know quite how to make my way forward from here.

Jenny

Love the Annie Proulx info. At 56 I published my first novel, which won a major award in my genre in the “debut novel” category. The sequel comes out in 2018. Writing is an ageless activity.

jon
Three non-fiction writers whose latest works I’ve recently read are Daniel James Brown (The Boys in the Boat), Bill Streever (And Soon I heard A Roaring Wind – a Natural History of Moving Air) and Jonathan White (Tides – The Science and Spirit of the Ocean). Every one of these writers is over fifty and of the three only Mr White has a reasonably visible online presence in the form of a Facebook page which he updates regularly. These updates are a sort-of blog. None of these three has a stand-alone blog or even a reasonably active website. I have… Read more »
Peg Cochran

My first book came out a month before my 60th birthday. I now have 17 books out and 3 more coming next year. And I’m not stopping!

Sharon Love Cook
This topic is right up my alley, as I’ve been writing since my first story was published in my high school “literary” magazine in the sixties. However, I’m impressed with what must be your excellent organizational skills, not to mention your energy (!) Re Yoga: I took my first class from a German woman, Ruth Bender, in the early ’70s. The class, held at the Burlington, Mass. YWCA, was made up of Europeans; I was the sole American. Truthfully, I liked Yoga better then: no gimmicks. Here’s something else Henry Ford said that stuck with me: “Whether you think you… Read more »
Stevie Turner

I didn’t start writing until I was 56. Before this I was gaining life experiences so that I could write about them!

Robert Kirkendall

One of the most important things a writer needs is material, and a 50 year older has more life experience, and therefore material, than a 20 year older. I think Raymond Chandler was around 50 when he wrote his first novel, The Big Sleep.

patriciaruthsusan

Thanks for this encouraging post. It’s inspiring. 🙂 — Suzanne

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