In a world where it’s all about the next, young innovative person to come along, it’s easy to feel like we have passed our expiration date as writers or artists. But does creativity have an expiration date? Is there such a thing as “too late” when it comes to creating?
Well, the short answer is no. The following are ten writers and artists who found success later in life. Of course “making it” is not everyone’s goal (and shouldn’t be). Most would settle for making it – that is, making that book or that painting they’ve put off or feel they have in them. Publishing, fame and notoriety account for very little, but as these creatives show it’s never too late to let your muse take the wheel.
1. Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowski didn’t start writing full-time until he was 49 years old, when he quit his post office job to dedicate himself to it. “I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy…or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.” Bukowski was a disciplined and prolific writer, who over three decades, would go on to publish more than 1,000 poems, 36 books of poetry, 13 books of short stories, 6 novels, and multiple non-fiction books and screenplays.
2. Raymond Chandler
Raymond Chandler, a British-American novelist and screenwriter was 44 when he decided to become a writer after being fired from his job at an oil company. From that time on, Chandler wrote seven novels, twelve short story collections, 7 movie scripts (including 2 that were unproduced) and a slew of periodical and newspaper publications. Chandler led a troubled life – riddled with depression and alcoholism – but remained a prolific writer up until his death in 1959.
3. Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is a teacher and editor, who began writing fiction as part of an informal writing group at Howard University. She published her first novel, the Bluest Eye, at age 40, while raising two children and teaching at Howard University. She’s since published 10 more novels, children’s literature, short-fiction and plays.
4. Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when the first Little House on the Prairie book was published. Wilder’s family was devastated by the Stock Market crash of 1929, and she hoped her writing would generate some income for her family. “Little House on the Prairie” was originally an autobiography titled “Pioneer Girl”. Laura’s daughter, Rose, suggested her mother turn the book into a children’s book. Laura Ingalls Wilder would go on to publish eight books in this wildly popular series, which was turned into a TV shown and a multi-million dollar franchise.
5. JK Rowling
JK Rowling published first book at 31, as the single parent of a young daughter. Before Harry Potter, she was penniless, divorced, had no permanent job and went through a deep depression after the death of her mother, even considering suicide. Today, she is one of the most successful and highly paid authors in the world. It’s difficult to find someone – in any country – who has not heard of the Harry Potter series, if not read it.
6. Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh only began painting at 27 and created furiously up until his suicide at age 37. It’s amazing to think he only painted for ten years and created 900 paintings and made 1,100 drawings and sketches in that time. While Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime, he is known and revered all over the world.
7. Millard Kaufman
Millard Kaufman was an American screenwriter and one of the original creators of Mr. Magoo. He wrote his first book “Bowl of Cherries” when he was 90 years old, closely followed by “Misadventure”. Sadly, he passed away at 92, having only written two books.
8. Grandma Moses
Grandma Moses was a renowned American folk artist, who started painting in earnest at 78 years old, after her husband passed away of a heart attack. She painted scenes of rural life to keep busy and distract from her grief. Ultimately, she amassed 1,500 canvasses in three decades, before passing away at 101.
9. Louisa May Alcott
Louisa Alcott’s family suffered from financial difficulties and from a young age she was employed as a teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper and even a station master for the underground railroad. But Louisa always sought an outlet in writing. Though she wrote for the Atlantic Monthly and penned some romances under a nom-de-plume, Alcott did not publish her first novel, Little Woman, until the age of 37. In addition to the three books she wrote in this popular series, Alcott would publish eleven other novels.
10. Frank McCourt
Frank McCourt, was a Irish-American teacher, who wrote a memoir about growing up in poverty in Ireland. McCourt didn’t publish “Angela’s Ashes”, until he was 66 years old. It book him thirteen months to write and was published in 27 countries and translated into 17 languages. McCourt would go on to write “Tis” and “Teacherman” before passing away in 2009 at 79 years old.
Something all these writers and artists have in common was that they “did the thing” and in most cases, they did it a lot. Once they decided to write or paint, they committed themselves to a lifetime of creativity. Though many dealt with depression, alcoholism, loss and financial hardship, they made the time to create and they showed us all it’s never too late to start.
While all these people were financial success stories, there’s so many thousands more – whose words we’ll never hear and whose paintings we’ll never see. While some would view that as a shame, it’s a larger shame to never do something because we’re afraid to start. Of afraid we’re too old. Or too poor. Or don’t have the training. Or don’t have the skill. Or the time. Or the money.
If you love it, none of these things matter.
What matters is that you start and you keep going until you finish.
In the comments, please write the name of a writer or artist (even if they’re unpublished or unknown) that’s inspired your journey.