What You Need to Write Your First Book After Age 50  

Today’s guest post is by Julie Rosenberg (@J_RosenbergMD), author of Beyond the Mat.


As a girl, I absolutely adored the Little House on the Prairie series. I would wake early in the morning, sit at the kitchen table, and devour each book. I was inspired by young Laura and her adventures on the prairie. What I could have never known then is what an inspiration Wilder the author would be for me as an adult.

Wilder didn’t publish her first book, Little House in the Big Woodsuntil she was 64. During the earlier part of her life, she had taught and farmed and raised a family. She had written a bit on the side for small local publications in her fifties, but it wasn’t until her retirement investments were wiped out in the 1929 stock market crash that she wrote Little House in the Big Woods. The book was published in 1932, and it was the start of a writing career that has resulted in the beloved TV series, spin-off books, and millions of copies sold. Like Frank McCourt, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes was published when McCourt was 66, Wilder is proof that it’s never too late to write a book.

I’ve previously written about why I believe that it is not only possible but in some ways advantageous to start a writing career after the age of 50 (see “Is it Too Late to Start Writing After 50?”). I am all for older writers taking the plunge, but it is important to be aware that it will be a different process than starting a writing a career at 25 may have been.

Here are a few things that are particularly important in order to start writing after 50.

Realistic Expectations

First and foremost: Set realistic goals. Is this book going to change your life? No. After publication, you will not be a different fifty-plus-year-old person. You won’t be richer (most likely) or instantly more popular or somehow more glamorous. You will be pretty similar to the person you were before, only this fifty-plus-year-old person has written a book. You might get some good reviews and some nice invitations to speak, but, for the vast majority of authors, your life will not be utterly and instantly and dramatically transformed as the result of having written a book. So ask yourself: What are you hoping to get out of the experience?

Time

Finding time to write is hard at any age, and at this stage in your life, you likely have more commitments and responsibilities than you did in your twenties. But the need for self-discipline when writing a book cannot be underestimated, and, establishing writing discipline is not easy. Stop trying to “find time” to write; you need to make time.

Also, keep in mind that writing is a solitary exercise. You must schedule and tolerate alone time. I am a morning person. I devoted time in the wee hours of the morning to write. I also write better in blocks of time, so I utilized weekends and blocks of vacation time for writing. I sought out quietude, as I don’t focus well with background noise. I found scenic places in the mountains of Woodstock, Vermont, and by the ocean in Sanibel Island, Florida, to write; changing environments over time helped to spark my creativity. While your preferred timing and choice of venue may differ from mine, you must allocate time to write on a regular basis. Document your progress in a journal, as you may find that certain days and times are more productive for you and foster better discipline. That said, it’s also important to pace yourself. If you need to take a break, take one. Walk in nature. Have coffee with a friend. Taking scheduled writing breaks throughout your writing process is a healthy habit and should help to keep your thoughts and ideas fresh. Try to balance breaks with a sense of accountability. Just make sure that you are setting goals—they could be time-based goals or word count goals—and meeting them.

Self-care

When taking on something new, maintain good health by staying in shape both mentally and physically. It’s difficult to stay disciplined and write constructively if you are stressed and exhausted. A daily meditation practice (even as short as 5 minutes per day) will help you to discipline your mind—to de-stress, focus, and erase mental blocks. It will help silence the critical voices in your head. Meditation will help to train your mind to get into the “writing zone” more quickly.

Confidence and drive

As a writer, you must have self-confidence in your ideas and your ability to successfully execute the work. If you’re a bit of a perfectionist like me, you must accept that your first draft will not be perfect. Nor will your second draft.

All writers feel frustrated at times and want to quit. So, it’s not just you. You may have, at this stage in your life, reached some level of success in other arenas, so it may be exasperating to find yourself a novice again. Voice the commitment to hang in there when things get tough. I found that continually learning more about the skill of writing as well as about the publishing industry helped me to more fully embrace this new discipline. A can-do attitude is essential.

Community

Writing is a solo endeavor, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone. You may want to join a writing group or engage a writing coach so that you have regular check-ins and can receive encouragement and support as well as constructive feedback. I worked on my book manuscript with the help of a developmental editor to keep my writing on track and to have a system of checks and balances in place.

I also highly recommend teaming up with younger people in the industry. You may be accustomed at this stage in your life to dealing with the most senior people in their fields. However, while they might have some perspective because of age, you don’t necessarily need that, as you have your own. A younger person offers fresh eyes, with accompanying insights and clarity about the publishing industry. The same way you don’t want to be judged for your age, don’t assume that because they are younger, they don’t have anything to offer. A little bit of youthful energy might be just the magic ingredient that you need.

Parting advice

Recognize that publishing is a business. If you go through a traditional publishing house, publishers need to be certain that you have the ambition and fortitude to do all the things that it takes to sell books. Showing up with a sense of vitality will help to improve your chances of getting an agent or an editor to take on your work, but ultimately what matters is what you put on the page. There’s no reason that age needs to be a part of the conversation you have with publishing professionals. On the other hand, your life experience affect your writing and your approach to a new endeavor, so, if your age offers you an advantage, use it! I did—and I wrote a better book than I ever could have written twenty years ago. And you can, too. Just always remember: Your talent doesn’t have an expiration date.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Guest Post.

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. She teaches yoga primarily “beyond the mat,” helping individuals and groups to apply the principles and practice of yoga to their daily lives. In 2017, she was selected by Number 1 executive coach and leadership thinker Marshall Goldsmith from among 16,000 applicants as one of the MG 100 coaches. 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. For more information, find her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or visit her at www.julierosenbergmd.com.

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Wayne G. Barber
Wayne G. Barber

Fantastic story and inspiration for us older authors who are just coming out and taking advantage of digital printing and creative writing. Wayne G. Barber, Host of the Authors Hour

Sandra Fox Murphy

Thank you, Dr, Rosenberg. Since I arrived late to my passion, your article truly spoke to me. At 70, I struggle, sometimes, to include young people in my circles and to show up with that coveted vitality … however, nothing can stop me from putting the words onto the page.

Bryan Fagan

I’m 55 years old. 30 years ago, heck, 20 years ago my mind was a lot sharper. I would have been a tad bit wittier. The ideas would have come out faster and of course the energy would have been much higher. But 20/30 years ago I did not have the experience of life that I do now. Understanding loss and love and fatherhood was a mystery. I could not sit still long enough to save my life and I was a poor listener. I sat down and began writing my first novel three years ago and I wouldn’t change… Read more »

Ekta Garg

I enjoyed this article and found it encouraging. On the days I get down about my own lack of writing time (my kids are 11 and 9 and involved in a host of after-school activities,) I try to cheer myself up by reminding myself that writing is a profession of longevity. That if I remain persistent now, one day the time will open up. I was a little puzzled by the following: “…and at this stage in your life, you likely have more commitments and responsibilities than you did in your twenties.” Why would this be the case? By the… Read more »

Lynne Spreen

Thanks for this. I’ve belonged to 3 writers’ guilds (one of which I started), and 85% of the members are older. I’ll share this, because I think they need to hear it. I published my first book at 58 (my novels and shorts all feature mains over 50). It won an award. Yet, what you say about “You’ll still be the same person, just with a book,” is absolutely true. A person has to be driven by love for the art, I believe. Greed is also helpful 😉

Linda MacConnell
Linda MacConnell

Thank you Dr. Rosenberg for an upbeat, encouraging article. As a 69-year-old fiction writer I found it helpful and inspirational. Your encouragement makes me all the more determined to persevere until I find an agent and my novel is published. Many thanks.

Valerie Baldino
Valerie Baldino

I enjoyed this article specifically addressing those of us writers who are over 50. I am 69 and have been working on my memoir for over five years. I’ve lost track of the number of revisions I have done (hopefully this current version will be my last). During that time period though, I also invested time and money in working with an editor as well as educating myself on the publishing industry. I would love to see some literary agents and publishing houses pay a little more attention to those of us who are more mature emerging writers. I’ve had… Read more »

K Hart
K Hart

I find the younger generation doesn’t want to even deal with most women 45+. Many of the young editors/agents are on autopilot to steer clear. Been to a few conferences and saw how receptive they were to the younger folks and how many older authors were left in the cold. Maybe harsh, but it’s true. There may be a few exceptions. Liberal minded youth excluding anyone here? LOL. I am going to self publish.

Paula Prober

My first book was published by a small press when I was 64. I’m a psychotherapist, so, in a profession where you’re appreciated more as you age. The book was nonfiction in a niche market, so it might have been easier to get published. I started my blog 4 years ago, at 62. It’s how the publisher found me. And, just for the record, I started dancing the Argentine tango at 47! So, I’m a firm believer in the “it’s never too late” philosophy. Thanks for the article!

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Mark Arnold
Mark Arnold

I traditionally published my debut novel at 66.

Jarm Del Boccio

Thanks, Julie. Your post gives me hope and direction!

Janet Morrison

Thank you for the words of encouragement! I’m 65 years old and writing what I hope will be my first novel. In many ways I don’t think I could have written this book as a young adult. Age brings with it perspective and life experiences.

Linda

This is so encouraging. After submitting the manuscript of my cozy mystery to several agents, I decided to self-publish. I worked with a writing coach and editor. She also helped me publish it as both a print and ebook. My granddaughter designed a beautiful cover. I celebrated my 70th birthday shortly after we completed the process.
You’re right. Nothing changed, but I did get a lot of lovely, kind comments on Amazon. Now I’m trying to muster enough courage to write a sequel. Somehow I’m afraid I don’t have another book in me!

Bruce Noon

I am nearly finished with my first new draft of my first novel and at 69, it dawned on me that I will be “older” when the process is done and it will not be an overnight process. Your article gave me a nice perspective but one comment I must make is that this project was something I dreamed about doing over twenty years ago and created a manuscript called “Handbook for a Terrorist” about the Inca’s resurrection in the 20th Century. The timing was bad because of 9-11, so I put it on hold until last year. I believe… Read more »

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[…] Nice post on publishing your first book after 50. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting close. Some sensible advice here, some applicable for all writers. […]

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[…] is an emotional and psychological journey. Julie Rosenberg lists what you need to write your first book after age 50, Nancy L. Erickson says you can heal yourself and others through writing, Kerry Schafer has a […]

patriciaruthsusan

Thanks for this informative, interesting, and helpful post, Jane. 🙂 — Suzanne

Jan

Great blog! I’m in my mid-fifties and going strong. I’ve retired from work and finding time to write has never been easier. I wish I had started writing when I was younger, but I am not letting age stop me 🙂

Jean M Cogdell

Great post. As one of the older crowd, I welcome the encouragement. Thank you.

Patricia Mather Parker

I recently self-published my first book at the age of 69. Everything in Rosenberg’s article is great advice. I would also add that seriously considering self-publishing is a good idea for us older folks. Traditional publishing, I realized, meant spending possibly years attempting to find an agent and then more time for that agent to sell your book to a publisher. Then if all of those steps are successful, the publisher will take a long time to get your book into print. If one does decide to self-publish, I also recommend finding someone to help with cover design and page… Read more »

Paul Williams
Paul Williams

Hello Jane, thank you for your encouraging blog. It’s never too late to start writing at any age. Being old is a big advantage – you have more perspective on life’s journey. As further encouragement to your readers Millard Kaufman wrote his first novel, Bowl of Cherries, at age 98. See review at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Bowl-Cherries-Novel-Millard-Kaufman/dp/0802143962
By the way I am “only” 85. After five years, I am about to finish my book on dementia care for family carers. Cheers.

Douglas Charles Gilbert

I am a case study and a success story example. I published my first book two weeks ago at the age of 66. It chewed up a year and a half of my life, including a college class on creative nonfiction writing with fifteen aspiring young seniors. After learning how to write, I had to teach myself how to write a novel and research the Cuban Missile Crisis, Russian submarines, Vasili Arkhipov and the B-59 incident. I wanted to present the Russian POV, so I took another course on the history of modern Russia. I was fortunate enough to wrangle… Read more »

KC Redding-Gonzalez

I not only restarted writing in my fifties, I returned to college to complete my BA in English/Professional & Technical Writing (graduating cum laude in 2012). I write and study Horror fiction, and my endeavors to write good fiction have led me to sharpening my cognitive skills, growing my vocabulary (again) and reading and researching. My mind might drop a word I am looking for now and again, but I know what I am looking for and do a lot of hunting to recapture that one word (which in turn feeds more vocabulary). I even maintain a blog on Horror… Read more »

Sandra Voss
Sandra Voss

Thank you for the encouragement and inspiration! After reading this, I sat down and scheduled writing time in my day planner. No more waiting for inspiration to hit. At 58, I can’t wait any longer.

lisa

Thanks for this!
I’m in this age group and finished my MFA two years ago. My cohorts were all the typical 25-35-year-old grad students…I was definitely odd man out, and that was tough! But, I finished the program.

Have had some crime fiction short stories published since, and am submitting more stuff all the time. Just found out one of my stories was accepted into a major anthology for 2019. Working on finishing the novel. Lots of ups and downs there!

Still have to work the day job. But, giving it my best shot!