Jane Friedman

Is It Too Late to Start Writing After 50?

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.

My 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.