Becoming a Writer in Your 40s, 50s, and Beyond

bwAge can be a touchy topic for artists of all types. There’s a glamorous myth that says all the geniuses come into their talent at a young age, and by the time they’re 30 they have already reached astonishing heights of prowess.

But like so many other sexy tales that figure into writing mythology, this one has little basis in fact.

Yes, there are examples of young writers who wrote their masterpiece in their 20s, but there are also countless other examples of writers who didn’t even put pen to page until after the age of 40. Most of my clients, in fact, are over the age of 40. Through my experiences in coaching these writers who didn’t discover their true passion until later in life I’ve identified three different types. Which one are you?

Reunited—and It Feels So Good
This type of writer usually wrote a lot in her youth. She may even have won awards or gained recognition for her early writing. But somewhere along the way she got lost. Maybe it was a bad relationship, or a demanding career that offered money too good to pass up, but somewhere between her teenage years and her current day reality, she stopped writing. And after so much time passed, she resigned herself to the possibility being lost forever.

But then, life surprises her. And this time it isn’t with a bad relationship or crazy-making career, it’s with an opportunity to start writing again. This type of writer finds herself completely and unexpectedly immersed in writing her book, finally.  She might be 45 or 60, but she feels like a teenager again. Everything about this process is new. And a little scary.

Nursing a Secret Flame
This is the writer who always keeps a journal, no matter what.  He might have long ago stopped writing stories and coming up with plots for an actual audience to enjoy, but he still jots down his thoughts and musings occasionally. This writer has usually gone through a lot of stop-and-go attempts, starting a few different things over the years but never finishing them. He also continues to read avidly and has a mile-long list of writers he admires. Of all the types, this type of writer experiences the most mental anguish. Because he never stops beating himself up for not writing.

From what I’ve seen, the Secret Flames do best if they have external support. Joining a writing group, hiring a writing coach, or even just enlisting one person as a writing partner who will commit to showing up at the local Starbucks with them to write once a week—these are all options that have the power to pull the Secret Flame out of his writing funk and get him back on track with writing. The support for this type is crucial. Because they suffer the most from self-doubt, even when they start writing again they’re terrified that it won’t last.

Never Saw It Coming
These writers spend most of their lives engaged in other professions, usually careers that have little to do with creative writing. Engineers, forest rangers, politicians, healthcare workers, they come from all over the spectrum. Much of the time this type of writer has reached retirement age and is beginning to look back on her long, extremely adventurous life. She’s always had this tickle in the back of her mind that maybe someday she would write it all down. And now someday has come.

Interestingly, this type of writer is most likely to be over the age of 60, and also most likely to do really well with social media, blogging, website design, and self-publishing. It’s like writing the book opened up the floodgates of courage in their hearts and now they’re ready to tackle anything.

I’ve also noticed that intuitive writers tend to start writing later in life and I have my own theory on this. I believe that the intuitive personality takes a little longer to develop, as we gather so much of our information about the world through our intuition, which can’t be rushed. I talk about this in-depth in my book, The INFJ Writer:

“This is why many writers don’t get their start on writing until later in life. They’re waiting for their World Theory to fully coalesce and mature. Whether…writing a literary novel, or a work of nonfiction, it’s probable that the writing is focusing on people in some way. How certain characters react in different situations, or why people in real life do the things they do. Most [writers] are extremely interested in psychology and human behavior. This is reflected in the writing work they put out into the world. And the sum total of all they’ve observed and analyzed is contained in their World Theory.”

If you’re interested in reading more about writers who get their start later in life, you might want to check out:

Who Decides How Old Is “Too Old” for a Screenwriter?

Writers of a Certain Age…Is It Too Late?

Why Women Memoir Writers Need to Think Bigger

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  • Reply Christy Esmahan 16 September, 2016 at 10:49 am

    I think I’m a “Reunited” kind of writer. I loved it when I was younger, but got too busy. Now I’m in my 50s and loving my writing career! It’s never too late!

  • Reply Jeri 16 September, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I’m definitely the first type. I wrote a lot when I was younger. Even managed to major in English for both my BA and MA, but then teaching and life happened. I came to freelance editing by posting critical book reviews, and it’s my return to editing that has made me want to scratch the writing itch again. Yet, the me who wrote her heart out 20 years ago is much different from the woman I am today. The journey is what’s it’s all about. I’m not giving up, even though there are been long lulls in my creative endeavors, I always come home.

  • Reply valorie grace hallinan 16 September, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    I love this post, and your blog. I’ve never seen anyone else offer these perspectives, and as a writer of a certain age, it is reassuring. Thanks for offering this wisdom.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 16 September, 2016 at 1:37 pm

      Oh yay! I’m so happy this resonated with you Valorie 🙂

  • Reply Rebecca Vance 16 September, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    I think I am a combination of all of them! I wrote some when I was in college. I was older than most students, and got into the writing bug. Then, since this was way before the advent of the internet, I was talked out of a career in writing because it wasn’t practical and advised to “get a real job.” So, I did. I had several different jobs, mostly in customer service and sales/marketing. I never gave up my longing to write, but I didn’t have time, or equipment or whatever in order to do it. Then, I became disabled. I had a computer, internet, and plenty of time. I had run out of excuses. So, I’ve been thinking about this novel for years, but have never been satisfied with any beginning. I started and stopped, started again and changed my mind so many times. I read all the blogs, numerous craft books, but never seem to get started. I DO want to write, but it is as if some fear stops me. Does this make sense? I get so confused with the writer’s block or whatever it is that stops me.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 19 September, 2016 at 10:23 am

      That definitely makes sense Rebecca. Almost all of my clients come to me with the same type of problem. Fear is holding them in place and they start and stop, but just can’t seem to keep the momentum going. I do think that reading books on craft, blog posts on character development, etc. can be more of a hindrance than a help at this stage, just because it focuses the writer’s mind on seeing all that might be wrong with their work, before the work is even fully out on the page.

      My best advice is to ignore all articles, blogs, and books on “How to Write” while you are actually in the writing phase. Just let yourself write and don’t judge it. If it helps, put the pages away in a drawer (or in a folder on your laptop) after you write them and don’t look at them again until you’re in the editing phase.

      I talk about this in-depth in my book, The INFJ Writer, and also offer a checklist of tips for what to do in the writing stage, and what to do in the editing stage, to help writers get through the start-and-stop sluggishness that comes with writer’s block.

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