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Alice Bradley is the co-author (with Eden M. Kennedy) of Let’s Panic About Babies (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011) and writes the award-winning blog Finslippy.

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You’re not too old

By Alice Bradley |

She's totally thinking about the kick-ass bestseller she's going to write.

I don’t know how old you are, but I can tell you this: you’re not too old to start writing. If you think you are, this is a lie you’re telling yourself. It’s a way of getting out of doing the work. Oh, that lizard brain is a sly one!

I was using this particular excuse from an alarmingly young age. I recently found a journal I wrote in high school where I was bemoaning the fact that all of the poems I sent out were being rejected. (I sent one of them to Seventeen. Did Seventeen ever publish poetry?) “If I’m not published by eighteen,” I actually wrote, “I give up.”

When I was attending an MFA writing program, I admitted to one of my teachers that I was embarrassed not to be published yet. I was way too old, I said. I was 29.

Fortunately, my teacher rolled her eyes really hard at me. Really hard. I think she might have broken something. I was a little worried about her. Still, I couldn’t see how ridiculous I was being. All I could see was how old I was. How very old! Oh, the seven years after college that I had squandered! SEVEN years! That’s like a lifetime for a hummingbird!

(Thank God I didn’t publish something back then. It would have been awful. I wasn’t ready. I had nothing to say. It’s never too late, but it can definitely be too early.)

I definitely used the too-old excuse to get away with not working hard enough, but also, I was working, just not at the pace I wanted to. I wanted to publish super-young (why, I don’t know. Because everyone loves a prodigy?), but I didn’t have the time or the resources.

As the years passed, I noticed something about the superstars who break out young. I don’t want to generalize, but for your sake I will: more often than not, they’re financially well-off. Of course there are the exceptions: the writers who got up at 5 am every morning before their underpaying job to eke out chapters and somehow managed to land a publishing deal by the time they hit 25. But most of them are more than solvent. They were able to work part-time or take a couple of years off to practice their craft or hire a full-time nanny while they returned to their art.

I know a writer whose name you would recognize (ooh, look, a blind item!) who spent his first two years out of college not working and writing books. He wrote several books. None of them were publishable, from what I heard. But he kept at it, and his work got better. Much better. Now he’s a best-selling author.

Wealth aside, let’s say you just didn’t have it in you when you were younger–whether the “it” was drive, ability, or raw talent. Maybe you’ve avoided writing because, let’s face it, writing can be scary as hell. Maybe you tried for a while and gave up. Or maybe you truly didn’t have the urge to write until now. Okay. Right now, there’s nothing stopping you from writing. As P.D. James (who wrote her first novel at 42) once observed, “It was sometime in the mid-1950s when I suddenly realized that there was never going to be a convenient moment to write the first book. You become a writer by writing. I had to make it happen.”

If you want to write now, you do it. Maybe you’re not good enough to get published yet. So what? You keep writing. Eventually you’ll get there. No one, when they’re reading your work, will think, “Well, this is a gripping story, but this author is way too old.” Writing is one of the few jobs you can excel at well into your dotage. Take advantage of that fact.

I’ll say it again: it’s never too late. Truly, it’s not.

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About Alice Bradley

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Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley is the co-author (with Eden M. Kennedy) of Let’s Panic About Babies (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011) and writes the award-winning blog Finslippy.

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9 thoughts on “You’re not too old

  1. Lisa says:

    I want to write, but I can’t figure out (a) how to start, and (b) I think no one will want to read it. Help!

  2. Melanie says:

    Thank you, Alice. Age, in this way, is like weight. I felt old five years ago and now look at me—I’m older! I felt fat five years ago and now…? Fatter! If I had known things would go like this I would have tried everything I dreamed of trying and, of course, I would have been naked 100% of the time. (Because, damn! what was I complaining about at 16!? Or 25? Or 28?!) To quote the best fictional song ever recorded on TV, “It’s never too late for now.”

  3. Andrea Bergstein says:

    You are not too young to start writing either! Scribblitt.com is a great website for kids where they can write, illustrate and publish their own books! I would love for you to check it out.

  4. Cassie Boorn says:

    The fact that you submitted poetry to Seventeen magazine makes me think we would have been really good friends in highschool.

  5. i love reading your words, alice.

    the only paid writing i do is creative non-fiction, but what i really want to write is fiction. so i’ve been taking a stab at it the past few months. i’ve got 10,000 words down or so on a story which was one i originally wrote for NPR’s 3 Minute Fiction. no, it didn’t make the cut and land on their website (bastards), but i loved it and so did most of the people i shared it with, many of them being literary types. i felt the bones to something beautiful were somewhere in that short story, so now i’m trying to extract them, brush them off, and let them see the light of day.

    i don’t expect for this to be publishable. but i still think it’s important for me to write it. b/c maybe, then, the next one would be publishable.

    anyway, my point is this: just yesterday i was lamenting the fact that i was 42 years old. and then i read this, a piece of much-needed perspective. thank you for writing it!

    john

  6. Mira Jacob says:

    Love this! Really love this.

  7. Kerry says:

    So…I really needed to hear this today.

    I’m turning 28 next week, and have been experiencing thoughts quite similar to paragraphs 3-4 up there. However, I DID publish a story this year, and now I get to worry that in a couple decades it will scare the shit out of me with its awfulness. Thanks, Alice!

    Joking aside – thanks for the perspective. I have a severe obsession/hatred with the New Yorker’s 20 under 40 anthologies. They make me want to beat myself over the head with a lamp. I have to remind myself that I actually have a 9-5 job, and therefore it will be slow-going. And that’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.

  8. Mili says:

    Thank you for this! I’m 20 and needed to read this. Will start writing seriously this year, it’s a promise to myself, and your blog helps a lot.

  9. Alexandra says:

    Alice, I’m going to believe you.

    When I tell myself I’m too old and everyone has a start on me, and just give up, why have dreams, I’m going to believe you, Alice Bradley.

    Thank you.

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