So, there was some talk recently about whether you’re washed up as a writer after a certain age and do you have to get published in your twenties and when should you give up and blah blah blah. I think a lot of people have said what needs to be said—which comes down to IT’S NOT OVER TIL IT’S OVER, BABY—but I also get that there are people out there who are despairing of ever finding the end of the publishing rainbow as the clock ticks on, so I wanted to share a bit of my personal story in case that might encourage anyone.
First of all, I am *GASP* over 40.
Okay, not a lot over 40. But turning 40 is a thing that happened in my past. (NOW YOU MAY LOOK AT MY PICTURE AND GO “WOW, MELISSA, I NEVER WOULD HAVE GUESSED.” WHY, THANK YOU. MOVING ON.)
Second of all, I have literally wanted to be a published writer since kindergarten. I know this because I remember we did an activity in kindergarten where we folded a piece of paper into like 6-8 squares and had to draw pictures of different things we might like to be when we grow up in each square. I put “Writer” in the first square and “Artist” in the second square, and then on reflection added “Princess” in the third square. And then I looked at the other squares like, dude, what more do you want from me? WHAT MORE IS THERE?!
I am sure my parents were thrilled to see I had selected such practical career choices. (In fact, I remember one of them—I’m not sure which—explaining to me that you couldn’t become a princess as a job, and that you had to be born the daughter of a king, and I remember thinking that was TOTAL BULLSHIT.)
I wrote picture books as a kid. I made my first real stab at a novel when I was maybe seven or eight, and got about 30 typewritten pages into it, which isn’t bad for a seven-year-old. It was about a princess who was a powerful mage AND had a magic sword AND rode a unicorn AND a dragon (though not at the same time, that would be weird), because WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL?
In fourth grade, I wanted to publish a book of poems, and my dad got me Writer’s Market. I read that thing cover to cover (what was WRONG with me?) and submitted some stuff and was Terribly Serious about it all.
In my late teens/early twenties, I wrote a really (REALLY) bad novel about a teenage boy who was secretly a prince AND a dragon AND a mage AND a really good swordfighter, because WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL? …So, yeah, that didn’t get me an agent. Thank goodness. But I tried. An agent even called me up and basically ranted at me on the phone about how I was wasting my potential. She ended the call by saying she had no doubt I’d be published someday. (Needless to say, she didn’t offer rep.)
It was very weird. In retrospect, I’m honored, and she was right on all counts.
I had to calm down and stop writing Mary Sue characters. I had to improve my craft, develop humility and empathy, and embrace revision. I had to grow up, both as a writer and as a human being. (Now, some people are already quite grown up as writers and human beings in their twenties. YAY! I salute those people. They’re amazing. That was not me.)
I got an agent when I was ready, as a writer. I got a publishing contract when I was ready. Before that, I still had more work to do. And that’s fine. I did the work. I learned the things. I wrote and wrote and wrote, I kept learning and getting better, and I didn’t give up.
And now, yay! I have a book coming out in October! MY LIFELONG DREAM IS FINALLY COMING TRUE!
It literally took, what, 35+ years?
And that’s fine. All that time, I was leveling up. Every shelved book earned me a ton of XP. Every word I wrote was a step toward this goal. Some people level up faster than me, and that’s great. But I made it! And you can, too.
The only way to be sure you never get there is to step off the path. Get back on that unicorn—or dragon—or BOTH AT THE SAME TIME, WHY NOT—and ride.