Too Old to Write? Too Young?

Is there an age when people are deemed “old enough” to be a writer? Or “too old” to think about writing and selling a book?

Many schools have programs where children are encouraged to write stories, then the adults put them into a book form. That’s a great program, but we don’t consider those books in the same way we think of books found in book stores. Those “kids” aren’t “real” writers.

But when is a young person old enough to be a “real” writer? I’m currently communicating with a 10th grader who is working on a novel. Her questions and ideas are exactly the same as I hear from older writers.

Eragon was written by Christopher Paolini when he was a teenager. (About the same age as the girl I’m hearing from.) Walter Farley started writing The Black Stallion when he was in high school. Kat Zhang soldher trilogy, The Hybrid Chronicles, when she was 19.

There’s a blog titled “Disgustingly Talented Teen Authors” where you can see quite a large group of authors (male and female) who had their first books published while they were teenagers.

What about writers younger than their teens? Wikipedia has a list of children writers. Books written by children or teenagers An eight-year-old was the youngest author I saw on the list, but who knows, we have children talking and reading by the age of three. There’s no telling when one of those children might decide to write a book (and have it published) by the age of six.

Okay, so how old is too old?

Some consider over forty as old, and I found several lists mentioning writers who didn’t start until after the age of forty. The next big jump seemed to be writers who started in their sixties. (Often after retirement.) The article, “Writers Who Started Late” has a list of well-known and some not-so-well-known writers. Included on the list was Millard Kaufman. Although Kaufman became a screenwriter in his thirties (he was a co-creator of Mr. Magoo), he didn’t have his first novel, Bowl of Cherries, published until he was ninety years old.

The nice thing about being a writer is there doesn’t seem to be any mandatory retirement date. Romance novelist Ida Pollack was still writing and being published when she died at age 105. Dame Barbara Cartland, author of over 565 published romances,was still writing and being published in her 90s. There’s one site that lists writers who are over 80.  The list was published in 2013, and since then some of those writers have passed on, but it shows reaching the age of 80 didn’t stop them.

So how old is too old? I guess the answer is when the ideas stop coming or the writer is unable to get the words into a readable form.



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28 Responses to Too Old to Write? Too Young?

  1. Diana Stout says:

    Despite all the myths out there telling us how old one must be, or in the case of Hollywood the old myth of what sex and race one must be, good storytelling knows nothing of any -ism.

    If the story is good, publishers and producers and more importantly, readers and viewers will want it, Period.

    • Maris Soule says:

      You are so right, Diana. Readers have proven a good story or movie is what readers and movie viewers want, not what “Marketing” thinks we want.

  2. In the last year a couple of writers have asked me if x age is too old to try to get published. I too believe that age is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the story. I’ve never picked up a book and wondered how old the author is–I only want a good story.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Susan, I don’t think readers care. I do believe agents and editors might, mainly because they see younger writers as potentially making more money for them.

  3. I am one of those late bloomers. My debut hit shelves a week before my 63rd birthday. My agent nor my editor never once asked my age.

    I attended a workshop with Donald Maass and he says the only time age becomes an issue is if the writer is under 18 and needs a parent signature on a contract. LOL! Otherwise no one cares.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thanks for sharing that, Carrie. Good for Donald. I always wonder how agents feel. As others have said, it’s the book (story) that’s important, not the writer’s age.

  4. Wil says:

    Age is irrelevant for sure….but….personally, I like the wisdom, the sense of experience that is woven into a really good story which most often comes with age. I haven’t read a book by a teenager…probably wouldn’t be my choice if I knew the author’s age up front. My bias, my choice to seek out the seasoned author. I cried when I heard the author of Millon Dollar Baby was 71, a poor man, when his story got published but he died before he knew of its success. Then I’ve read all of the very successful P.D. James, who used an extremely broad vocabulary to express her sentiments, and she wrote well into her late 80’s. Powerful, encouraging.
    The only thing I think youth might have as an advantage over the ‘aged’ is the burning desire that comes with the need to succeed. Wrapped around that is an excess amount of energy that lets them burn the candle well into the wee hours.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Wil, when I look at young writers, I am envious. As you said, they have that burning desire and the energy to pour themselves into their stories and the marketing. I remember when I had that desire and energy. I haven’t lost the desire, but I don’t know where I misplaced the energy. I keep looking for it, and I’ll start looking again, after I take a nap.

  5. Do you recall the song-You’re never too young or too old”? A terrific song and so true. I wrote my first book at seventy after many years as an actor. I’m still cookin’ at eighty seven. Romance combined with humor and Therapy dogs and Maris, I still dance everywhere I go, even if I’m at the grocery shop or hanging out with my ten-year old granddaughter.
    Thas for the pertinent question.

  6. I meant to write THANKS!

  7. Never too young and never too old. Creative expression is good at any age.

  8. Melissa Keir says:

    Age is just a number. Great stories will always win over any number.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thanks, Melissa. I’ve met people who were “old” in their forties, some people who never seem to grow up (not necessarily a positive feature with a few) and some who are simply ageless.

  9. Well, shoot. I’m not really that unique according to this post. My 20th book, MISS ROYAL’S MULES, a historic western, is due out from Five Star this coming November. I’m 86. (Actually, I would have guessed I’m not alone, and I don’t mind at all.)

    • Maris Soule says:

      Good for you, Irene. With the population aging (due to better health), I have a feeling there will be quite a few writers still producing in their eighties and nineties. Keep on writing.

  10. Ann Robinson-Berger says:

    There is an old blues song,”Too old to get married, Too young to get buried”
    I am 78 and just started writing my life stories. Friends have often said, I should write them down. I am also getting into film festivals at my “OLD” age

    • Maris Soule says:

      Ann, that’s wonderful. Isn’t it amazing how we used to think 78 was old (ancient), but now it doesn’t seem so old. And I don’t think one is ever too old to get married. Good luck with your writing and films.

  11. Diane Burton says:

    Great post, Maris. You’re as young as you think you are. Some days, I’m thirty; other days, I’m ninety. All a matter of perspective. Your story should matter, not your age.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Diane, you’re so right. Mornings when the weather is cold and damp, I’m sure this body must be a hundred. When the sun is out and I’m warm, I’m a kid again.

  12. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I could first hold a pencil and form words out of letters, but
    I didn’t become a ‘real’ writer until many
    decades later. Now, in my late 60’s, I feel as
    though I’m at the beginning of my true career. It’s a bitter sweet feeling. Part of me regrets not having the courage to pursue my first love years ago, and part of me is amazed to find that even now, despite my chronological age, I feel the energy and excitement of finally setting out on my true path.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Patricia, I’m glad to hear you are now following your heart’s desire. The time is obviously right for you to do this. Enjoy the excitement.

  13. There is a socio-economic component to this too. If you have the means to be supported, then you can pursue any field in the arts at a younger age.

    If not, you usually abandon your creative side in the pursuit of a career/job that will give you economic stability. Then, if you are still inclined and passionate, you come back to the creative side in later in life when you have the economic means.

    When I see younger authors, my first self-centered thought is ‘you’ve never gone hungry’, because if I had not pursued a career, I would be living on the street. I had no safety net.

    I came back to writing 18 years ago, but am still not published, because I’m trying to write while maintaining a full-time job and raising kids. And writing takes money for classes, editors and marketing.

    I don’t think there is an age when it’s too old to write. But, there may be an age when you’re too old to market.

    Younger faces do look better on ad copy.

    • Maris Soule says:

      H.S., your comments point out two important aspects of the publishing game: (1) starving authors may sound romantic, but it isn’t very practical. My guess is those young authors listed on that website all had the stability of their parents for money and housing. And (2) you are so right about younger faces looking better on ad copy. I’ve heard editors say. “Not only is the story compelling, he’s good looking.” Of course that’s not always what sells a book, but it doesn’t hurt.

  14. Pat Stoltey says:

    I’m 76 and will keep writing as long as I’m able. I am thinking more about self-publishing these days, though. It takes so very long to get a book through the traditional path.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Hi Pat. I, too, am thinking my next book will be self-published, but part of my reason is my traditional publisher is no longer publishing mysteries, and other traditional publishers aren’t wild about picking up existing series. Thank goodness we now have the option to self-publish.