Stephen R. Campbell

Author of Mysteries and Crime Fiction

Writing a First Novel in Your Fifties

As you may know, I’m not a kid. I was fifty-five years old when I decided I wanted to write. I’ve been taking classes, reading books, talking to authors, and, most importantly, writing since I decided it was something I really wanted to do.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve written a number of unbelievably bad manuscripts while I’ve been learning, but I’ve gotten better. One thing that always concerned me was that I’d come to the business of writing too late. Surely you need to start when you’re young to be successful, right?

The short answer is no, but I didn’t fully realize it until this past weekend.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with Laura Lippman at Sleuthfest, in Orlando over the weekend. She’s the New York Times, best selling author of the Tess Monaghan series, as well as the winner of virtually every award for excellence in the crime fiction genre. When I mentioned the age issue, she shook her head, saying she knew of plenty of authors who started at around my age, including some that had achieved great success. She was far too polite to tell me to get over myself, and just do the work.

I’d missed Hank Phillippi Ryan’s keynote address on Thursday, but I purchased the audio recording. Hank’s a big star in the writing world and is a vibrant, glamorous woman. Imagine my surprise when, during her introduction, I learned that she started writing at age fifty-five.

So I did a little research, trying to find well known authors who had their first books published while they were, ahem, getting along in years.  Here are just a few of the ones I found:

  • Frank McCort, the author of ANGELA’S ASHES, had his first book published at age sixty-six.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Author of the Little House series, was first published in her mid sixties.
  • Raymond Chandler had his first novel, THE BIG SLEEP, published at age fifty-one.
  • Rex Stout was forty-eight when he published the first of thirty-three novels and thirty-nine short stories featuring Nero Wolfe. He was eighty-nine when his last book was published.

It looks like this whole second act career idea is not so wild after all.

Are you in your mid-fifties, and thinking of writing?  There’s nothing stopping you.  But do us both a favor before you dash something off and click that publish button.  Take some classes, read some books on craft, put some time in learning how to write.  Then, practice, practice, practice, while you’re continuing to learn.

From one middle aged beginning writer to another,  it’s not nearly as easy as it seems like it will be when you’re reading.  But, it’s not so hard that you can’t put the time in and write something that’s pretty good.  If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, and you’re willing to put the time in, then do it.  I suspect you’ll amaze yourself.

 

8 Comments

  1. A very wise person told me no one had anything to say until they were 30 and they would spend about twenty years trying to figure out how to say it.

  2. Tweeting does work, Stephen. Your tweet just caught my eye. I have been writing, off and on, all my life, but never produced anything publishable until I was 57. That’s when I finished the first draft of my first mystery novel. It took me another two years to get it polished to the point where I was willing to have the world read it.

    I love Logan’s quote also. Here’s another one, from my mother. Whenever my stepfather would mention something he’d always wanted to do, but he was probably too old to do it now, she’d say: Might as well do it now. You aren’t getting any younger!

    • Hi Kassandra – Wow! That’s great – I do tweet, but with limited success. I’m very pleased that you caught it. If I’m doing the math right, your first book was published when you were 59! That’s not only cool, it’s inspirational. Your mother is absolutely right – None of us are getting any younger. But it feels like we are when we’re learning and doing things we love.

  3. Loved your post – lots of encouraging words!
    At 62, I have restarted my writing – that I let go over 20 years ago. Newly retired, I have decided it is my time to write. I am taking courses and trying to write daily.

    • Hi Bev – Thanks for stopping by. It’s amazing how many good courses and books are out there to help those of us who want to learn to write well. I’ve taken courses locally, courses online and I read everything I can get my hands on. And writing daily, seems to work best for me as well. Good luck on your journey!

  4. Thanks for the inspirational words Stephen. Your article was just what I needed to pick me up this week. I’m in my early 50s and have always wanted to write, but as you mention, the thought of being too old had always bothered me. Best wishes and much appreciation. By the way, I’m thrilled that you will be interviewing Cathy Ace soon! I had the pleasure of meeting her on a cruise a few years ago and became an instant fan. She is a marvelous author and walking Wikipedia of crime fiction.

    • Thanks Lou! It’s nice to know we’re not alone in trying to accomplish crazy new things in our fifties, right? Cathy is amazing and I love what she’s doing with her series. Taking the traditional mystery and moving Cait Morgan around to different locations. I think her love of travel serves as an inspiration for her writing.

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