Late Bloomers and Perennials
August 30, 2018 § 54 Comments
For many writers of a certain age, myself included, Allison K Williams’ recent Brevity blog, about the tremendous response to her tweet listing beloved authors whose first book was published post-40, struck a nerve.
…the overall response was one of relief.
Thank you, I needed that.
There’s still hope.
I needed to hear that today.
A lot of people are worried they might be too old, or not published enough (the paradox of not publishing until you’re published), or that being a writer is somehow a special condition and only certain people are allowed to contract it.
I appreciated the post as another voice in the lively conversation about ageism, sexism, racism and other biases in the publishing world. I earned an MFA in creative writing at 60 and published my first book at 61. By most any barometer, I am a late-blooming author. I have mixed emotions about the label. On the one hand, I’m proud I’m beginning to realize long-held dreams. Other times I’m defensive, apologetic, even ashamed. Why did it take me so long? Is it too little, too late? What was I doing that was so damned important all those years I wasn’t writing?
“Late bloomer” implies a judgment. We use it for children who reach developmental milestones—walking, talking, tying their shoes—later than their peers. In adolescence and adulthood, “late bloomer,” often with a sigh or a philosophic shrug, describes those who are floundering, who haven’t yet found themselves, their passion or their path. The late bloomer is failing to meet someone’s expectations, be they parents, teachers, a spouse or employer, or the standards within their field.
Is it the same with writers?
Why not drop the “late” and just use “bloomer” to describe writers who publish post-forty? Yet that stresses the absence of a word, rather than the word itself. Oh, I get it, they dropped the “late.” If a plant-related reference is called for, I prefer perennial, as in enduring. Continually occurring. Better still, how about just “author”?
I’m betting many, if not most, authors labeled late bloomers have always written. We scribbled in journals or diaries, jotted poems in the margins of memos and reports. Sometimes there were long stretches when we only managed to write in our heads while commuting, pacing the floor with a colicky baby, or grocery shopping on the way home from work. We found little ways, palliatives, to keep the writing dream alive, fertilize our ideas while life took over and the urgent left little time for the important.
I’ve done no survey, scientific or otherwise, but it does seem that “late-blooming author” and “woman” often go together. Attend any writing conference or workshop and chances are a majority of the seats will be filled with women of a certain age, there to resuscitate dormant dreams and dusty manuscripts. A panel at the Hippocamp 2018 creative nonfiction conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, “Breaking Into Writing After Forty,” was comprised of five women writers (myself among them). Scanning the offerings at next year’s AWP Conference in Portland, five women are slated to present “Better Later? Success and the Late Blooming Woman Author.”
What is it with all these late-blooming women writers? I imagine many, like me, spent their young adulthood and middle age juggling careers, kids, relationships, housekeeping and the rest. Not that there aren’t many men who do the same, and thank goodness for that. But we are still nowhere near gender equality in sharing all family and household responsibilities. Hats off to my younger writing colleagues who manage to keep at their craft while their children are still young and their careers on the rise. I wasn’t able to find the bandwidth.
Is the male attorney or doctor publishing a first book post-forty considered a late-blooming author, or a professional who parlayed his accomplishments in one field into another? I challenge myself to see my own life’s trajectory in a similar light.
The time I’m now able to devote to writing is relatively new—post-retirement, post-parenting, past caring how my house looks and whether supper is on the table—but it’s not as if I wasn’t taking care of business all these years. Let’s give ourselves credit for all the lives we’ve led and the myriad ways they have informed and inspired us as writers.
It’s not as if we weren’t blooming all those years. We were flowering, nurturing and gathering memory seeds. With a lifetime of experience to tap into, it’s time to plant and feed those seeds, to write the life stories we’ve lived.
Dorothy Rice is the author of The Reluctant Artist (Shanti Arts, 2015), an art book/memoir about her dad, Joe Rice. She has placed two dozen personal essays in various journals and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her WIP is To Dye Or Not To Dye: a memoir of Ageism, Shame and Acceptance. Dorothy blogs at Gray is the New Black and tweets @dorothyrowena.
Thank for every word and for starting my day off with a smile! I’m 51, working on my first book, and we really need a post on people with “nontraditional” career paths. It’s another one of those words. 😉
Thanks so much for reading and commenting Kristen! I hear you on “nontraditional” career paths. Mine was a series of accidents. Best wishes on your book. I look forward to seeing it soon!
All we need now is for someone to start labeling the “late-blooming poetesses.”
I have the pleasure to work with many amazing poetesses who have been blooming for years and are still at it!
Thank you for your words. They made my morning. I’m 51 and working on my first book. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 15, and now I have the gift of time to do that. I don’t consider myself a “late bloomer” or any other plant, for that matter. I’m a woman who writes. That’s enough.
So glad to hear, Christine. Yes, the gift of time. I feel the same. And you are so right. We are women who write!
There’s a great book by Annabel Crabbe called ‘The Wife Drought’, which basically points out that a lot of us would have better careers or creative lives if we had a wife at home doing all the stuff for us which we often do for our men while they’re having the careers… Better late than never I say: claim your space, older writers/bloomers! G
Sounds like a book I should read, thanks for sharing. And absolutely, better late than never. Way better!
Thank you for that. While I will always struggle with the business of daily occupations that need to get done even now in my sixties, my need and desire to write never leaves me. Your words make me feel understood, indeed encourage me to keep on ‘blooming’.
So glad to hear, Marie. That’s exactly how I have felt all my life, that the need and desire have never left me. I hope they never do. Best wishes!
“I’m betting many, if not most, authors labeled late bloomers have always written.” Like you I was busy. When I published my first fiction, the journal found it “charming” that my previous publishing credits were about dogs: fleas, inbreeding coefficients, color heredity, field trials for sighthounds. I raised children. I went back to work. All the time, I was writing.
Good to hear from you, Jan. My work has been called “charming” too and other adjectives that made me feel condescended to. I’d love to read more about fleas. I fear I have them and can’t figure out why or how!
I turned 50 at my first MFA residency. Told my mentor that someone had to run businesses or volunteer in schools or chair nonprofit committees or care for kids/elders all these years. Ageism is thing, and I hope it can be eradicated from our guilds and communities, along with the other toxic “isms” that cripple our society. Hope that creativity and serious writing at any age will be valued. Thanks for this.
Ageism is definitely a thing! Great to hear from you Sherry.
YES!! And congratulations on publishing your book. You are an inspiration.
Aw, thanks Monica!
I am, by all accounts, a late bloomer. I could not write a single authentic word until I came out at age 43. At age 55, my first book is coming out. I don’t regret blooming so late, I’m just grateful that I did.
I know what you mean about authentic words. I had the same issue. I had to switch from fiction to nonfiction to find them. Good to hear from you. Write on!
Thank you for your post, and wonderful meeting you at Hippocamp 2018!
Likewise! Thanks Carole.
Thank you so much for this! I love every bit of it, especially the acknowledgement that those of us who are approaching middle age and knee deep in children and career and household responsibilities are still writing, even when we’re scribbling fragments of whatever we can, whenever we can, just to keep the writing dream alive. I recently finished the first draft of my first novel and I realized that it’s been percolating for the past 10 years while I was tending to my unrelated career and starting a family and didn’t have time to write a novel but could jot thoughts and notes in journals when I had time. Kudos to you and all the commenters who are writing with the maturity and wisdom that comes with a few more trips around the sun. 🙂 Cheers and thank you for the morning inspiration!
Congratulations on finishing your draft, Lisa! That’s huge. Best wishes to you.
I love this Dorothy. Thank you for writing this perspective. Though you are a woman — and though you are in your sixties, I am incredibly honored to have published your work in Brain Child and I look forward to doing so in the future.
So great to hear from you, Marcelle. Publishing in Brain Child was a high-light for me and I will absolutely submit again. Thanks so much!
Thank you for this! I am 63, and I arote professionally for many years then have written weekly sermons for the last 20. I’m just now returning to literary writing, which mostly fell by the wayside in my 30s. I believe nothing is wasted.
You are so right – nothing is wasted. Write on!
How is 73 for very late indeed? I grant the time starts to shorten from the other end, but I do know I am finally sure of what I want to say. Funerals do that…concentrate the mind to the essence of what was important.
There are elements that have receded- like sex- and romantic dreams but others have replaced them like philosophic realism. I do wish I’d failed earlier but would failing have arrested confidence? I can now fail posthumously and incognito!
This rings very true for me. It does shorten at the other end, and funerals, well, yes. Great to hear from you.
Maybe another way to think about it is to think of a different type of late bloomer = those in the garden. I treasure the late bloomers in my garden – flowers that come on as summer winds down, brightening up the tired beds where every other plant lies spent. More valuable for its “late” appearance but entirely appropriate for the particular plant. After all, think of everything you’re bringing to your writing – it wouldn’t be the same without what you went through. Not to be too Pollyanna-ish, but your career provides a wonderful example to all of us who blended career, kids, marriages (for some!), etc. and you rose to the top. And now you’re doing it again, excelling in another profession! What you wrote has to be said because ‘late” is probably used by some as pejorative, but for me, it’s just a descriptor of a time of year, as someone above said, in another trip around the sun.
Beautiful words, Kathryn. So great to hear from you. I love your extension of the gardening metaphor. So true. Yep, another trip around the sun. Here’s to many more!
First book. ACCIDENTAL LESSONS. I was 52. I’m 61 now. 7th book comes out in summer 2019. Age turned on the faucet.
Wow! Good for you and congratulations!
It’s better to bloom “late” than never bloom at all!
So, so true! Thanks, Carla.
At 76 I started a Writers Group and this summer I had five of my stories published . It’s never too late. My work takes place in the 50’s— lots of cigarette smoking and a retro look at life in Brooklyn before it became a cool place to live.
I know I am old but it doesn’t matter. It is all about the writing.
Good writing is ageless.
I feel damn lucky,
I couldn’t agree more and your work sounds wonderful. I was just in Brooklyn to visit my daughter and like imagining it in the 50s, before it was cool. And well said, good writing is indeed ageless.
Thanks for the inspiring words, Dorothy. I will be 50 soon and started to write only this year. I agree, we’ve always been writing, just not “officially”. I will remember this post (and the great comments) whenever I begin to doubt and procrastinate.
I am so glad Brigitte and congratulations on your writing journey. As many have said, a writer is someone who writes. No need for any official recognition. Write on!
I forgot to mention that one of the stories that was published s in
Brevity Magazine. spring issue.
Best,wishes, Phyllis Reilly
Thank you a million times, Brevity,
Here it is, in fact: https://brevitymag.com/current-issue/the-mailbox/
I loved this piece, thanks for sharing the link Phyllis!
I prefer the term “seasoned writer” and use it in describing myself and my cohort writing buddies.
I didn’t have kids, so can’t use that as an excuse for why I didn’t take up creative writing at a younger age. Now I’m busy taking care of my 90-year-old mother, so that script has been flipped a bit.
The real story is that I find I have so much more to say now that I’ve lived longer. And I believe I say it better, with more humility and empathy, than I could have at age 30, that’s for sure.
Thanks for the post–I’d say you struck gold on that topic!
Kids or not, life is full. I couldn’t agree more on the acquisition of humility and empathy with time. Great to hear from you.
Better late than never. I am delighted you finally have an opportunity to write. You do it so well. I was at Hippocamp this year and was struck by all the people our age just getting started. You prove it can be done.
Thanks so much, Jeff! Hippocamp was great and, yes, so many inspiring stories. I hope to return next year.
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Thanks for posting Cecilia!
Words have power, but we also give them their power. I actually see nothing wrong with ‘late bloomer’ and I’m no spring chicken either. Although if people kept using it on me then I supposed that would get annoying. But better to bloom than not all all! 😉 Cheers.
You are so right! Here’s to blooming . . . whenever . . . wherever. All best, Dorothy.
It was wonderful to read this piece, gives me hope!!! Thank you so much for writing it.
I am so glad. Write on!
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thanks for posting to your blog!
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