Shortlist.com has recently produced an infographic showing the age at which various famous authors produced their most famous work. It’s worth having a look at, especially if you are approaching a landmark birthday, 30, 40, or 50 and are worried that you are perhaps too old now to make it as a writer.
A large number of writers get under steam in their 30’s, but this is by no means true for all the authors shown. More than a few really only start publishing in their 40s and there are some whose most famous work doesn’t roll around until their 50s and 60s. I’m reminded of Frank McCourt who published his memoir, Angela’s Ashes, at 66 to wide acclaim, or Raymond Chandler, who was 45 when he published his first professional story in a magazine. Both of these authors are missing from the infographic and they might have been interesting additions if only because their careers came on unexpectedly fast later in life.
Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that writing is not and will probably never be the same sort of race against age that a would-be pop singer or sportsperson must face. Of course, this isn’t an excuse to put your writing aside tonight and tell yourself you’ll do it tomorrow. Another thing that can be taken from the infographic is that it sometimes takes a person a lot of practise to write well and there’s no reason to give up on inelegant prose if in actuality it might take you ten years or twenty to get your skills firing on all cylinders.