Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing,  Topic of the Night

Topic of the Night: Starting Late

I got a great comment from a gentleman on one of my older posts about starting late in life.

Basically, what he said was that he felt behind starting at forty-five. His comment brought clearly back to mind how I felt for years about how I felt that I was starting very late at the age of thirty-two. (I had wasted seven years ahead of that writing almost nothing and rewriting everything to death. I hated that I had done that.)

And I know that all of us, at one point or another have these sorts of thoughts.

When indie publishing came in and Kris and I focused on it, I was already mostly done with traditional publishing and was going to head back to playing professional poker. Then here comes indie publishing and we fired up and I did the covers and publishing and we started with some of our backlist short fiction and then did Kris’s novels.

I loved doing the covers and the interiors and the loading. Great fun for a while. (Most of my covers sucked, but that is another topic, I got the stories up and they were selling.)

Two-hundred-and-twenty titles later, we were making enough to hire good help and Allyson joined us and took over the WMG Publishing corporation and has run it ever since. Four years now.

And for a time I could help, but then one day about three years ago now, I sort of woke up and realized I had nothing to contribute to WMG besides a few short stories. I had been a media writer, a ghost writer, and had written books under pen names I couldn’t use.

Three years ago, at the age of 62, I had exactly one novel to indie publish and yet another ghost novel through traditional publishing I had to do.

In other words, at the age of 62, I was looking at starting fresh in a brand new publishing world. And I had the exact same feelings the gentleman that wrote me talked about.

I felt I was too late.

I was too old.

All my lawyer friends were retiring. But I didn’t feel like retiring or going and playing poker just yet. I was liking the freedom of the new publishing world.

So for that spring and early summer, I battled those feelings until I finally just decided that if I didn’t do it, I would always regret it, and that has been a major rule in my life, never leave anything to regret later.

Also I had just had a great friend die suddenly at 63 and I was really, really feeling that time was short.

So in July of 2013, at the age of 62, I announced the challenge and the creation of Smith’s Monthly. All I had was the knowledge I could write and some short stories.

So off I went, writing and posting about the writing since that August 1st. And the first issue of Smith’s Monthly came out in October of 2013 and issue #28 will be going into WMG this next week while #26 and #27 are in the production process.

A new novel every month now in the issues.

And now in my 65th year I’m trying something I never thought I would get a chance to try, and that’s a year of short fiction. We’ll see how things go in the next few months on that, but the age isn’t slowing me down.

In fact, the feeling of starting late has spurred me even more.

And spurred me to make decisions, lots and lots of them, about only doing what I enjoy.

For example, I love playing in collectables like comics and marbles, so we bought back my old store and are starting a second store.

I love teaching and studying writing at deep levels, so we are still running workshops.

I love short fiction, so playing with that this year to an intense level.

I love having my own magazine every month, so going to keep that up.

And so on.

What being 65  years old and starting at 62 has taught me is that if you feel time is short, use that feeling to your advantage.

No matter your age, if you feel you are starting late, don’t just think there is no point. Do the exact opposite: Work harder, learn more, push faster.

Use the fear of starting late as a fuel. That’s what I did when I was 32 and starting off and that’s what I did when I started fresh into this new world at 62.

And what I find interesting is that now, at 65, because I pushed so hard, I am making more money on my writing than I ever did working in traditional.

And I am having more fun.

It is never too late. Go have fun with your writing.


  • Vera Soroka

    I guess I started late in life with a lot of things. I never started writing until I was in my early forties. It happened out of the blue. Didn’t know where it was going to take me. I did submit to publishers and agents. I got rejected but I don’t think at that time I thought about my age until now. I published in 2014 when this whole indie movement was going strong. I was scared about the learning curve but I took it on and I am still learning a ton of stuff. This year will be my push to publish what I have written in the past. At least I spent more of my time writing than submitting to agents.
    I think it is never to late to start something new in life. Why not? You hear about people going back to school all the time. Life is too short to second guess it. Just do it and have fun with it.

  • Marsha

    I have a role model whom I’ve never actually met, but read about years ago. As a young woman she began her working life as a teacher, retired after twenty years and then became a CPA. After twenty years of that she retired again, hated it, and got her law degree, passed the bar and practiced law until her death.

    When asked if she ever felt too old to begin a major career, she replied that time passes whether we do anything with it or not. She felt that working towards something she enjoyed gave her satisfaction and fulfillment, and who could ask more than that of life?

    She was seventy when she began practicing law. Time passes whether we do anything with it or not. I’ll never forget that.

    • Lisa

      “Time passes whether we do anything with it or not.” and
      “It’s never too late.”
      Wise words. They make me feel a lot better about writing where I’m at.
      Thank you, Marsha. Thank you, Dean. 🙂

  • Kendall

    Yeah? Try starting at 65. But already 3 books in, a good short on Amazon, and a fourth book out soon. Guess I’ll start the fifth this a.m. Only 122 more to go until I’m out of ideas.

    • Harvey

      I referred this post to readers of my blog yesterday (Monday). I received one comment: “I had to laugh out loud when I read Dean’s topic of interest because in 2011 when I self-published my first chapbook of prose poetry in paperback at age 85, I thought I was late getting started. Since then I self-published 11 more chapbooks of poetry, started a weekly journal sent to 100 readers by email attachment, and monthly poetry sent to 100 readers by email attachment. Now I am looking at D2D, wondering if I could make that work.”

  • Elise M. Stone

    This post echoes a lot of my story. I gave up writing (other than journal entries) my senior year in high school when my mother convinced me I’d never be a professional writer. Lots of years passed.

    Then 9/11 happened and I, too, thought long and hard about what I’d regret never having done. Having a published novel was second on my list. I was 53 in 2001 and starting pretty much from scratch. I often wondered if I was starting too late, but reminded myself that Helen Hooven Santmyer became a bestselling author in her 80s with “And Ladies of the Club.” So I kept going, with the dream of being traditionally published.

    I wrote a lot of crap in those years, learned about the “rules,” joined writers groups, took classes. I also learned that the odds of getting published were slim and, if you did manage to snag a book deal, chances are you wouldn’t make any money from it since the publishers assumed you’d be spending your entire advance on marketing.

    Then indie publishing happened and there was a whole other option out there. I published my first book in January of 2013. I haven’t been nearly as prolific as you have, but I plan on publishing four novels this year at the age of 68. You’re never too old. It’s never too late to follow your dreams.

  • Harvey

    Knocked it straight out of the park, Dean. In April of 2014 I picked up Heinlein’s Rules (from you) and Writing Into the Dark (from you) and I haven’t looked back. I’m currently working on my 13th novel. There was also one novella and over a hundred short stories. And on my last birthday, I turned 63. This year I will write one new novel every month and at least one new short story every week. Hang in there and know you’re leading a herd.

  • Jason M

    Thanks Dean. I just turned forty and have to field the occasional comment from my father that “you make all your money in your forties”.

    I hope that’s true, but it doesn’t apply to writing, not one bit. It can be earned at anytime. Thanks for providing a reality check.

  • T. Thorn Coyle

    Very inspiring, Dean. Thank you for this. I’m starting a fiction writing career at 50 after years of writing non-fiction and teaching. It feels exciting to me.

    This sort of thing always reminds me of Dear Abby (or was it her sister, Anne?) who posed the question, “And how old will you be in four years if you *don’t* go back to college?” My own mother changed her life in her early 60s. She’s now almost 90, has had 30 years of a great life, and more to come, it seems.

    I hope to keep learning until I die.

    – Thorn

  • Cynthia Lee

    I am eternally grateful that I didn’t start writing in earnest until I was nearly 40. If I’d written anything
    sooner, it would have been a bunch of pretentious nonsense. I would have been trying to appeal to The Critics. *shudders*

  • Sam Reeves

    What an inspirational story! I’ve often asked myself, “How old is too old to start your life over?” And you’ve shown us that success depends on starting — now — whenever that is, and then keep moving forward. I remember in my early 20s thinking, “Stephen King published his first novel at 26. I better hurry up.” Ironically, I had no clue how effortlessly I moved the starting point with comments like, “Aw, I can write tomorrow. I’m still young.” Decades pass that way.

  • Dane Tyler

    *Standing Ovation!*

    Fantastic post, Dean! Very inspiring, very near and dear to my heart. It’s great to hear someone farther down the road shouting encouragement, and keeping us going.

    Some of us couldn’t do it without you and Kris lighting the way. Thank you.

  • Dave Raines

    A topic for the ages! Or aged (grin). This column really hits home for me as a person of a certain age. I don’t regret how I’ve spent my life but yeah, it feels like time to write. Or rather accelerate.

  • allynh

    My Dad was the most inventive, creative, person I ever knew. At age 60 he sat down and waited to die. He would say things like, “There’s no point buying a new truck, I’ll be dead any day now.” “There’s no point getting a new table saw, I’ll be dead any day now.”

    I tried to get him to start painting again, being creative, doing new things, but he was stubborn as hell. “Why try, I’ll be dead any day now.” And he was right, 26 years later he died.

    He sat there reading the same Louis L’Amour books over and over, or napping in front of the TV. The last 15 years of his life were miserable as he started to physically fall apart. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Since he wasn’t being active physically or mentally he started getting Parkinson’s like symptoms.

    My Dad taught me many things, both what to do and what not to do. I turn 60 in April, and I will not sit around waiting to die. I will be “alive”, creative, doing new things, until I die.

    To top it all, David Bowie just died. Ziggy! No!!!


    When you do the 10,000 steps a day, you are not only keeping your body active, you are growing brain cells. Learn some yoga as well. Not the weird standing on your head stuff, but the deep muscle stretching that will not only keep you limber and keep your balance but grow brain cells. Check your local Community College for classes. If nothing else, get _28 Days to Yoga_ by Richard Hittleman. It’s a little paperback that gets you up to speed with low impact. Do what feels comfortable. I ignore the standing on my head stuff. I do a simple 10 minute routine each day to loosen up and keep my back and neck from getting stiff.

    Also, if you don’t know how to draw, get _Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain_ by Betty Edwards. She has books, workbooks, a DVD, all from Amazon. Anybody can learn to draw. Check around town, someone will always offer the class.

    Look on YouTube for “drawing on the ipad” and see what you can do with simple software.

    Keep writing, being creative, doing new things. Stay alive until you die. HA!

  • Jes

    When I returned to writing in my forties it was like walking on a bed of nails relearning what had once been second nature to me. Many times I thought I was too old for this. But what it comes down to is no matter what I really would rather be writing. It is worth the discomfort and humbling experience of being a newbie again to write the stories and live this life, seeing life through this artistic filter. I could die tomorrow or live another fifty years and it’s all good. My husband’s grandmother graduated from college with a degree in business administration in her seventies and worked for at least ten more years doing something she loved and enjoyed. There is a woman who shops at the same grocery store as I do and she’s over 115 years old – does her own grocery shopping. Amazes the hell out of me. Just goes to show your final bow might be over two acts.
    Great post and a topic that definitely needed addressing. Thanks for being so honest, you really inspire me.

  • Cona Faye Gregory Adams

    Speaking of starting late . . . I will be 81 soon, and have only begun to write my memoir. Another writer in our local writers’ society finished her first book at age 92. You are so right, it’s never to late!

  • Kate Pavelle

    Thank you, Dean. Well said. I rounded 50 last fall, and I’ve been weeding out the things I’m no longer willing to put up with in my life. A time of metamorphosis, I hope, rather than that of violent purging. It’s been a bit rough at times, but well worth it, because I spend more time doing what I truly love, rather than what other people expect me to do. That includes writing and publishing. It can’t possible be too late. Frank McCourt, a write who had greatly inspired me, started out a lot later than I.

  • Geri Jeter

    Nailed it, Dean. Besides, it’s fun to reinvent every so often. My jobs have gone like this: Dancer, student, insurance manager, radio sales, legal secretary/assistant, classes in copy editing, massage tech training, gemologist, magazine editor, dance writer, freelance copyeditor. What is fun is how things overlap. The insurance manager gig led me to better jobs in law firm insurance coverage departments. When I was in my fifties, I became a graduate gemologist. A few years into the jewelry career, I took a gig at the American Gem Society where they needed my editing abilities for coursework and their quarterly magazine. While there, I took a UNLV class in PR writing. Half-way through the class the instructor was made the editor of the LV Weekly. He bought my homework, which led to five years of dance and arts writing for them and two years covering the SF Bay Area dance scene. And that all led to being the managing editor for three tech theater mags, and then running a LV lifestyle magazine. Now I have my own freelance copy editing business.

    The point of all this is that it’s never to late for a fresh start. And you never start too late — because it’s the cumulative experiences that lead to success in whatever new adventures come your way. Besides, it’s what keeps life interesting.

  • Rob Cornell

    I’ve been writing since I was 15, but have never had a professional sale. I have had some success with the indie movement, but I’m still not making a full living. I’m facing my 40th birthday this year, and I have to admit I have been wondering if after all this time it’s too late for me to reach the success as a writer I have long dreamed about.

    This post and the following comments put things in a better perspective. Rather than look at what I have not achieved by this age, I should imagine what I can begin to accomplish starting now.

    Thanks for this one, Dean.

  • Lily Silver

    Excellent wake up post. It makes this new career I started after 50 seem more exciting. And yes, the learning curve is steep but I love this job. Thanks Dean, your insights are usually spot on. Lots of writers in other writing loops are complaining about dropping sales this time of year and going back to the day job. I have too many stories to write. Your pace inspires me when I see your WC totals. i know you’ve talked about it before here, but one day if you don’t have anything to post for a topic (highly unlikely, I know), you might discuss the pitfalls of obessing over Sales numbers and how detrimental it is to authors careers.