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Blooming late

Can you be too old to start writing? 

George Eliot said it’s never too late to be what you might have been, but it can certainly seem that our culture doesn’t value older voices. Organisations often chase the youth market and ‘the best young’ lists, covering every theme, are a regular fixture in the media. 

There are some fields where advancing years disqualify the newcomer; middle age is probably too late to decide you were meant to be a heart surgeon or a principal ballerina. 

Many writers, however, have started late and gone on to great success. The list includes:

It’s never too late to write

Perhaps you used to write when you were young, before whatever it was got in the way. Somewhere, in your head, you’ve linked writing with adolescent angst. It seems a bit…silly. A bit presumptuous. But, if you have experienced the desire to write, it will flare up again. 

As a young man, my friend Robert won a prize for his first poetry collection and promptly stopped writing, for reasons he still finds mysterious. Years later, as a teacher, he found that getting writers in to speak to his students inspired him too.

Eventually, Robert joined a class, met other writers and started writing regularly again. Since retiring he has taken a PhD in creative writing and published another collection. His creative energy bubbles over into projects with musicians and other writers. And he just won a poetry prize at the age of 72.

Finding encouragement

There are so many things that can get in the way of writing – work, family, the need to earn a living. The world can just be too much. Whoever said ‘life is short, art is long’ might have been trying to find time to write a novel between checking work emails, cooking dinner and making sure the kids finish their homework. But the biggest obstacles can be in our own heads: fear of failure, fear, even, of success. 

Robert admits his journey back to writing has been, at times, scary. The encouragement of others was crucial. One of the best ways to make room for your writing is to join a class or a writing group, either locally or online. You’ll almost certainly find other late bloomers. You might also find your tribe.

Find your way

Writing – good writing – comes from the core of yourself, and requires you to expose your heart, mind and soul. Don’t be afraid. Don’t stay in your comfort zone. Use your rich life experiences to guide your writing.

Take on board the advice that works for you and discard the rest. For example, the claim that 10,000 hours are required to master anything could put off many late bloomers. You might find yourself thinking: ‘surely it’s too late to fit in those hours now?’

The 10,000 figure, however was based on a misunderstanding of the research. The volume of hours worked turns out to be less important than the quality. Besides, over the years, you will have no doubt built up a lot of incidental practice and skills that you can bring to your writing now. 

One thing is certain. The older you are, the greater your life experience, the greater the stories you have stored, the greater the importance of sharing your voice. 

Charles Bukowski, whose first novel was published at 51, knew about grabbing life’s chances. His inspirational poem, The Laughing Heart, will inspire you to take them. Bukowski knew things take practice, but the more you act on your desires, the more you take chances, ‘the more light there will be’. 

Your life is your life. Take chances. Find light in your writing today.

‘The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work…and gave to it neither power nor time.’

Mary Oliver
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About Martine Large

Martine Large is a freelance writer. She has had poems published in various anthologies and was longlisted for a Poetry Kit Summer Competition. She is working on a novel.

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