by Suzanne Woods Fisher
My dentist likes to ask about my writing whenever I come in for my six-month check-up. Toward the end of the last visit, he made a grave error. “Imagine,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Getting published at your age!”
I was outraged! Silently, of course, because his tools were in my mouth.
First of all, I am not old. Not by a long shot. Secondly, the average age of writers who topped the hardback fiction section of the New York Times Bestseller List, from the years 1955-2004, was 50.5 years.
Third, I think there’s something that happens in mid-life that causes a creative streak to break loose to have its day in the sun. Contrary to thinking that a late start might hold a person back, it can have the opposite effect. There’s a surge of energy, a hungry enthusiasm that can propel someone beyond his or her wildest dreams.
I love collecting stories about those who change paths in mid-life and reinvent themselves. Julia Child was forty before she ever took a cooking lesson. Italian tenor Andrea Boccelli was a lawyer who sang in piano bars on nights and weekends. Pulitzer prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon was a middle-aged flautist who had never considered composing music until her flute teacher told her to create something. In an interview with classical radio station KDFC, Higdon said she felt she benefited by getting a late start. “I was exploring things when I was at a more mature age. For me it was all brand new, and to this day it still feels a little brand new.”
So what happens, creatively, at mid-life to inspire artists to reach beyond themselves?
It might be as simple as having a few battle scars from life. Writers, in particular, need life experiences-love and joy, grief and loss-to write credibly from a variety of points of views. Obstacles, big and small, have been overcome by the time one reaches age forty, fifty, sixty, and even seventy.
Or it might be as simple as King Solomon’s words from the book of Ecclesiastes: “There’s a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”
Author Sarah Sundin spent ten years attending writers’ conference before she sold her first historical fiction manuscript to Revell Books. Looking back, she’s grateful for the wait. “I wasn’t ready!” she said. “I needed that time.” Had it come sooner, Sarah felt she wouldn’t have been able to sustain success. An acclaimed writer, she’s now contracted for her sixth novel with Revell. “I talked to so many young writers at ACFW in their twenties and thirties, still with babies at home and full/part-time jobs, longing to be published. I wanted to say (but I didn’t) – ‘Slow down! Take a deep breath. You have plenty of time ahead of you when your babies are older.’ What I did say (pointedly) was how writing is a full-time, 40+++ hrs/wk job for me now. I am so, so, SO glad God made me wait!”
Success not only can come at mid-life, but it might come quicker and stick around longer. So the next time you’re worried that your ship has sailed and you missed it, consider Grandma Moses, who picked up a paintbrush in her late seventies because arthritis made embroidery too difficult. She painted until her death at age 101 and is considered to be one of America’s most renowned folk artist.
So after taking sometime to think through why mid-life is not only a good time to start expressing oneself creatively-but maybe the best time-I just might not switch dentists, after all.
Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling, award-winning author of ‘The Stoney Ridge Seasons’ series and ‘The Lancaster County Secrets’ series, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. She has a free downloadable app, Amish Wisdom, that delivers a daily Amish proverb to your phone. Suzanne lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area but can be found on-line at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com.