For The Late Blooming Writer

I sat on the concrete bleachers and watched my class graduate without me. It wasn’t that I’d played my time away in college or that my grades weren’t up to par. I changed my major during my sophomore year from mass media studies to English education, and my new major required a lot of classes that my former major didn’t, so I needed another year to catch up. I knew that not graduating with my class wasn’t due to a negative reason, but watching most of the people who were familiar to me march across Armstrong Stadium instead of marching with them made me feel late and a little like a failure.

I can look back on this now and say that I was being over dramatic since I graduated a year later with the same “piece of paper” that everyone who graduated during the previous year received. My degree may have come a year later than I had planned it, but it still came.

This is how things usually happen for me, though. I’ve always been somewhat of late bloomer. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was almost 18. I didn’t have my first real boyfriend until I was 19. Even though it seemed that everyone was going straight into graduate programs right after undergrad, I didn’t start grad school until two years later. Yet, all of these aspects of my life still ended up pretty much on par with what was going on with everyone else in the end. I’ve been through this pattern so much that I remind myself about it whenever I start ruminating about something not happening for me when I think it should or when it happens for other people. It seems like pattern is continuing with my writing career.

Although I consider myself to be a late blooming writer, I am in a weird category since I’ve wanted to be a writer since grade school, but I was late in realizing what I needed to do to advance my career as a writer. I started out thinking that I was going to be a journalist, but I now realize that even that was a subconscious way that I was trying to make my aspiration to be a writer more palpable for other people who didn’t think a career in creative writing would provide me with the stability of regular income, health insurance, a retirement plan, and rest of the trappings of the traditional “American Dream”.

I am thankful that all of the infopreneur/indie author/online business stuff is coming together in a way that I can see a realistic path to being a full time writer, but I have to admit that I’m having some of the same feelings that I had when I was sitting in those concrete bleachers watching my class march into the “real world” without me. I wish I had come to this realization when everyone else did, and part of me feels like I would be so much further ahead with my writing if this epiphany had come sooner.

It doesn’t help to see so many early 20-somethings fresh from MFA programs get million dollar book deals from prestigious publishers and be lauded as the next J.K. Rowling or the next Toni Morrison. I’m not one to hate on the success of others, and I know that most of these writers achieved what they did because they are just outstanding, amazing writers. However, seeing writers so young achieve something that many writers don’t achieve until their late thirties and early forties only ratchets up the irrational conclusion that I’ve missed my opportunity.

There is an illusion that there is some arbitrary expiration date for achieving life goals that challenges many of us.

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This lie that I tell myself, that I am late, and therefore unworthy of success in some respect, is one that I am working hard to silence within myself. There is an illusion that there is some arbitrary expiration date for achieving life goals, and many of us are challenged with that from time to time. Over the years, I’ve learned some ways to combat my anxiety about being too old or too late to achieve my dreams as a writer.

The first thing I learned to do was to break out of the habit of defining myself by the age that I reach milestones in my writing career.

I used to try to figure out how old some of my favorite writers were when they completed their most notable works in order to put together a rough timeline for when I should aim to meet my writing goals. Even now, I catch myself Googling newer authors who win prestigious literary awards or secure lucrative book deals to find out how old they are at the time of their accomplishments.

But it really doesn’t matter how old they are when they achieved certain milestones in their writing careers, what matters is that they achieved them.

It’s not an author’s age that gets them noticed by an audience or a publisher or awarded literary awards, it’s the work they put into to their pieces and their willingness to polish and polish and polish until they get it right.

I now put all of the energy that I used to research ages and timelines into focusing on creating a body of work that will help me achieve the goals that I’ve set for my writing career.

I also stopped comparing myself to younger writers.

It wasn’t fair to me to compare myself with writers who I had no other context about other than their ages. I wasn’t taking into consideration that some of these writers were writing for very popular markets that have a lot of opportunity or that they are graduates of some of the best creative writing programs in the country. I didn’t think about the connections that some of them have and the networks that they are a part of. These are all factors that have a lot of influence over an author being published or not, and although publishers do like to get the freshest, young talent on their rosters, I’m sure that age is the factor that gets the least consideration when it is time for publishers to pick who they want to give deals to.

I lean on legendary writers who started writing later in their lives as inspiration and motivation.

I posted this quote from Toni Morrison on my Instagram page a few weeks ago:

“I feel like today we always glorify the young, just-plucked-from-college writer. But it’s much harder to start writing later, in middle age, struggling on a book around a full-time job and family.”

Every time I start to ruminate about my “lateness” or when the “what if” questions start to overwhelm my mind, I come back to this quote.

This is from a woman who wrote her first novel at 39 and went on to become a Nobel Prize winner and an author who is considered to be one of the most valuable writers in American literature. If she understands the struggle that comes with starting or building a writing career at a later age, I think I’m in outstanding company.

There’s even science that suggests that creatives don’t hit their peak in creativity until their mid-40s anyway. Sometimes I think that maybe I’m not as late as I think, I’m just impatient.

I realized that my advantage of being older is that I have more processed memories and emotions to write about.

When I look at some of my poetry that I wrote when I was in high school and college, I sometimes wince at how insular I was. Most of what I wrote was about love, relationships, and being accepted, which is to be expected from a teenager going into adulthood. I write about similar themes now, but I think I have a much more nuanced perspective and much more context about these issues. This nuance and context is something that has to be developed over years through experience in life that younger writers don’t have. I’m more interested in diving more deeply into characters, themes, and topics than I was 15 years ago.

Writers mine their minds for their work. Older writers have more to mine, so we should feel fortunate!

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This added dimension that is unique to older writers is becoming increasingly more appreciated, and there’s even a literary magazine that was created in response to the growing youth worship in contemporary literature.

Writers mine their minds for their work. Older writers have more to mine, so we should feel fortunate!

Most importantly, I continually learning about the craft, I keep writing, and I’ve taken my writing career into my own hands.

I’m self-publishing my first book of poetry because I started to realize that sitting around and fretting about younger writers without developing and publishing my own work was laying the foundation for a set of unrealized writing goals. I’m constantly reading about becoming a better writer, seeking out opportunities to network and workshop, and, of course, I am constantly writing. All of these things help me to keep my mind off of how young the latest writing prodigy is and on where it should be…on my own creative work and the business around that work.

Do you worry about being a “late bloomer” when it comes to writing? How do you deal with this?

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