I’m turning forty this year. And when you’re a middle-aged mom writing science fiction at four in the morning, it’s hard to look at all the startling young ingenues in their adorable city apartments, writing life-changing novels, getting MFAs, doing interviews with Lithub—
—Let’s just say that I’ve been there. I understand. I thought my life was over in my early thirties when I turned out a truly awful epic fantasy novel (oh god, it was so terrible), which happened to be the year I plucked my first grey hair. I thought it all was over. Our youth-focused society spins so many terrible stories about how growing older makes you less relevant, focusing on young singers and young artists and young actors and young restauranteurs. It’s an obsession, and an unhealthy one, considering that everyone gets old.
So I understand if you’re reading this and you think you’ve missed your window. Luckily, novels are tricky things, more like a garden than an Instagram photo or a hot new single. It needs time. It needs attention. It needs you at your best. Lives don’t come in one-size-fits-all packages. That may be 22 for you. It may be 35. It may be 65. It doesn’t matter. You write a damned good book? You’ll find a publisher for it. Publishers are always looking for good books, and not one person at Tor has ever asked how old I am.
It’s going to be okay. (Here’s some hard data.)
Curtis Brown Creative says that most authors debut in their thirties and forties, and this blog has some really great analysis.
Electric Lit puts most breakthrough books in the forties, as well—and that’s the novels that made the authors famous, which were not very often their debut novels.
Jim C. Hines collected much of the same data from modern working midlist writers. He has spreadsheets.
It’s not about the business. It’s not about the promotion. It’s about you, and when you are ready. Your words, your life experience, your perfect first novel.
So, as Gandalf says in the Lord of the Rings novels, wizards “are never late. They arrive precisely when they mean to.”
And so do novelists.
(Tolkien, by the way, was 45.)