It’s easy to look around at all the young stars rising, the instapoets and youthful voices that abound and wonder if you’re too old. Did you wait too long? Is it too late? So I compiled a list to inspire you. Because it’s easy to feel that way. And? The last entry on the list felt exactly the same way. Enjoy!
Starting with the youngest…
12) Helen DeWitt, age 44.
Helen DeWitt held a lot of jobs while struggling to finish a book, including Dunkin’ Donuts employee, secretary, and working at a laundry service. The 50th book she started was the first one she finished and published. Author Helen DeWitt was 44 when The Last Samurai was published.
11) Suzanne Collins, 46
Suzanne Collins worked for Nickelodeon, writing for children’s shows and writing books on the side. She published her first book at age 41, to little acclaim. It was Hunger Games, published at age 46, that took flight.
10) Charles Darwin, age 50
Charles Darwin was a failing medical scholar who was more interested in nature than medicine. A chance 5-year voyage led to the observations that became his book. He was 50 when On the Origin of Species was published.
9) Bram Stoker, age 50
During most of his life, Bram Stoker was best known as the personal assistant to actor Sir Henry Irving. He started writing at age 43, but had no success at it until Dracula was published at age 50.
8) Charles Bukowski, age 51
Charles Bukowski was a postie who wrote bits of poetry and short stories for small literary magazines. When an indie publisher offered him a deal he quit his job to write. His first book, Post Office, was published when he was 51.
7) Richard Adams, age 52
Richard Adams spent his life working in the British Civil Service. He began to write stories in his spare time, reading them to his children and later, to his grandchildren. He made up a story for his daughters on a car trip and they insisted he publish it. He was 52 when Watership Down was published
6) Dr. Seuss, age 54
Dr. Seuss was a cartoonist for Vanity Fair, Life, and also created illustrations for ad campaigns for FLIT and Standard Oil. He published his first children’s book in his mid-30s, but it was a “don’t quit your day job” venture. He finally found publishing success at age 54, with The Cat in the Hat.
5) Anna Sewell, age 57
Anna Sewell was unable to walk due to a childhood injury and her only mobility was a horse and carriage, fueling a love for horses. Her only book, Black Beauty was published when she was 57.
4) J.R.R Tolkien, age 62
Tolkien was a professor at Oxford. Writing was a hobby, and he saw himself as a scholar first, a writer second. He published The Hobbit in 1937, at age 45, but to little fanfare. It was not until The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954 that he found success as a writer. He was 62 years old.
3) Laura Ingalls Wilder, age 65
Laura Ingalls Wilder was a teacher until she got married and settled down to raise children and help her husband on the farm. It wasn’t until her daughter was grown and in college that Rose Wilder started encouraging her mother to put her childhood stories into print. Little House In the Big Woods, the first in the Little House on the Prairies series, was published when she was 65.
2) Frank McCourt, age 66
Frank McCourt was a high school teacher for 30 years before he decided to write. His first book, a memoir of growing up in squalor in Ireland won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Angela’s Ashes was published when he was 66.
1) Harriet Doerr, age 76
When she quit college to get married, Doerr had no idea she could be a writer. It was only after her husband died, years later, that she decided to go back to school — in her 60’s! Her teacher “made a writer of her,” she said, encouraging her when she felt intimidated by all the younger people in class with her. Her first book, Stones of Ibarra, was published when she was 74 years old. It went on to win a National Book Award.
It is never too late to do something
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery