Michille: Never Too Late

SjhillWe Ladies are all writers. Some of us have more years of life experience than others among us, some of us have been writing for more years than others among us, also, but none of us are wet-behind-the-ears young. But we write. Every now and then there are articles, blog posts, 8LW conversations about ageism and age discrimination in the writing industry. Some writers wrote for a long time before getting published. Some didn’t start writing until later in life.

And for every article/post/conversation about ageism, there is one about how young a writer was when he/she got started. I was reading about Chaim Potok today (a clue in today’s NY Times Crossword – yes, I cheated and googled where he went to college, because, honestly, who actually knows that kind of stuff). He started writing fiction at 16. At 17, he made his first submission. It was rejected, but by 20 he was published and went on to achieve literary greatness.

While I’m not striving for literary greatness (I’ll take some degree of commercial success, though), I do have a goal of being published. For any of us writers out there who aren’t published and wonder if we ever will be and if it’s worth it, here are some examples of writers’ journeys that are more heartening than SEP’s first-manuscript-completed-and-sold publishing story.

  • William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times, John Grisham’s A Time to Kill was rejected 16 times, Laurence Peter’s The Peter Principles was rejected 22 times.
  • How about Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – 121 rejections.
  • Louisa May Alcott was told to stick to teaching.
  • Agatha Christie’s first book was published four years after it was written.
  • Worse than that – Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before having anything published.
  • Zane Grey, Marcel Proust, and Beatrix Potter self-published their works after receiving so many rejections.
  • Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen’s Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 134 times.
  • Meg Cabot has a mail bag full of rejections on The Princess Diaries. I think Janet Evanovich had a trunk full.
  • Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected 18 times. At least one publisher said a book about a seagull was ridiculous.
  • J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by all major publishing houses.

And to take a different route, there are celebrities in many areas with a late start:

  • Kristen Wiig started at SNL at 32.
  • Jon Hamm wasn’t a big deal until 40.
  • Harrison Ford was 35 when filming Star Wars: Episode IV.
  • Jane Lynch’s breakout role was Best in Show at 40 (if you haven’t seen it, it’s a[n] hilarious must see).
  • And Julia Child starting cooking at 37!

Once again, I say, it’s never too late. Go forth and do something you really want to do regardless of whether you think you’re too old to do it or not. What do you want to do?

7 thoughts on “Michille: Never Too Late

  1. One of my favorites is that Cherry Adair submitted for 17 years before a publisher accepted her first book, and then she submitted for another five before anyone accepted her second. Now, of course, she’s Huge. And then in the don’t-let-this-happen-to-you dept., John Kennedy Toole submitted “Confederacy of Dunces” to about a zillion places, all of which universally rejected it, and then he killed himself, and then his mother submitted for another 11 years until somebody published it and it won the Pulitzer.

    And for late bloomers, let’s not forget the painter Anna Mary Robertson, otherwise known as Grandma Moses, who started painting at age 78 and whose “The Sugaring Off” was sold for US$1.2 million in 2006. And Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when her first book, “Little House in the Big Woods,” was published. So there’s hope for all of us yet!

    And what do I want to do? Finish this !@#! WIP.

  2. I’ve heard Christie Craig speak a few times and she always brings with her the suitcases of rejections. Talk about challenges — I don’t think she finished high school, she was a young married mother, dyslexic, and yet she persevered. Her droll humor when she speaks is a lot of fun, then she starts throwing the rejections around like confetti. It’s very inspiring.

  3. I sometimes think one of my major blocks is my lack of urgency. That snippet from Hamilton the Musical keeps running through my head: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” I write like I have all the time in the world, and I wait for it to build to a head and come tumbling out of me. Which is great when it does. But it’s not a great way to write books, because no head, however big, can really hold a whole detailed novel in it. (Well, OK, I’ve read a few stories about guys who hole up in a hotel and then spend 48 hours typing continuously until it’s out. But me? I need my beauty sleep.)

    I love these late-bloomer stories, though. It is consoling to think it is never too late, as long as one does write.

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