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You’re not too old

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When I was attending an MFA writing program, I admitted to one of my teachers that I was embarrassed not to be published yet.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