HALLIE EPHRON: “It’s Never Too Late” is the headline on the November/December issue of Writers Digest Magazine. That got me thinking about the many writers I know who didn’t start writing fiction until their 40s or even their 50s, when many people are thinking of retiring, and have gone on to have terrific success.
How did they do it?
Today starts a 2-part piece in which authors who started late share how they did it.
- Annamaria Alfieri
- Lucy Burdette/Roberta Isleib
- Jane Cleland
- Sheila Connolly
- Hallie Ephron
- Sara J. Henry
- Edith Maxwell
- Barbara Ross
- Hank Phillippi Ryan
Here are the questions everyone answered:
- When did you start writing?
- What career did you have before you published your first crime novel?
- Why did you start writing fiction?
- How long did it take from when you started writing fiction to seeing your first book published?
- Did you take writing classes or complete an MFA program and did that help?
- Were you in a writing group and/or hire an independent editor to work with you on your first published book?
- If you could do it over, what would you do differently?
Crime novels published to date: 4
Before writing: Management training consultant, CEO of small marketing company, non-fiction author
Started writing: 1950
Why started: I knew when I was nine that I wanted to write stories.
How long from starting writing to publishing first book: I started writing fiction with an eye to publication in the late 80's. I had a book I thought was publishable in 1999. I tried to get an agent to represent it for eight years. In the end, I had to write a fifth nonfiction book to get and agent to read CITY OF SILVER. When it finally went out to potential publishers, it sold to St. Martin’s Minotaur in four days. It came out in 2009 and earned starred reviews and love letters from critics. I say this because I want people to know that rejections by potential agents do NOT mean the book is not worthy.
Classes, MFA: I studied creative writing in college, but not afterwards.
Writing group, independent editor: I did join two writing groups, and I think they helped me develop my skills. I did not employ an editor, but I did polish and polish and polish my own manuscript. I still do that.
Do over: I am so delighted that I am getting published that I don’t look back. And I often think that I am better prepared now to write about the human condition. I don’t think I would have been a very insightful writer had I tried to write fiction seriously when I was a young woman.
Crime novels published to date: 14
Before writing: I worked in a private practice as a clinical psychologist.
Started writing: The year it entered my mind, 1998
Why started: I can only explain that it was a midlife crisis related to many hours of bad golf. (What could I make of all that wasted time?)
How long from starting writing to publishing first book: 4 years
Classes, MFA: I took a lot of local classes on all kinds of writing. Yes it absolutely helped--I had no clue how to write fiction.
Writing group, independent editor: Yes definitely to a writing group. Still work with them! I finally hired an independent editor for books 3 to 7. It was so helpful--a private tutorial on character, plot, setting, and words, but all tailored to me!
Do over: I think this was a process that had to unspool, so not sure it could have been different.
Crime novels published to date: 10
Before writing: Corporate trainer specializing in business communications
Started writing: I’ve always been a writer. I started writing my “Josie” mysteries in 2003. I wrote my first mystery (now on the shelf) in 1998. (I started one in 1984, but didn’t get far.)
Classes, MFA: Only after I was published. Both classes and the MFA helped.
Why started: My mother was a writer. When I was a kid, I thought that’s what all women did.
How long from starting writing to publishing first book: 21 years.
Writing group, independent editor: No to the writing group. Yes to independent editors.
Do over: Learn more about craft earlier in my career.
Crime novels published to date: 9
Started writing: 1990
Before writing: Taught elementary school, college, wrote training materials for high-tech companies, had my own marketing copywriting business
Why started: I ran out of excuses not to (kids were out of the house, an empty room could be my office…)
How long from start to publishing first book: 10 years
Classes, MFA: for 3 semesters I took a fiction class with the great Arthur Edelstein and learned to write scenes and harness viewpoint
Writing group independent editor: Yes and yes, though I no longer use either
Do over: Not be so aggrieved by early rejections; they were telling me what I needed to hear.
Crime novels published to date: 26 (including the first three under the pen name Sarah Atwell)
Before writing: Professor of art history, municipal investment banker, non-profit fundraiser, genealogist-for-hire (and I've used all of them in my books)
Started writing: 2001
Why started: I'd always been a reader, and I finally decided in 2001 (after 9/11) that it was time to try writing.
How long from starting writing to publishing first book: Started writing 2001, signed with an agent in 2006, and first book appeared in 2008 (as Sarah Atwell; the first under my own name came out later the same year.)
Classes, MFA: No, although I did join RWA and SinC.
Writing group, independent editor: I was part of a writing group for a while when I began writing, but we didn't last--I forget when it fell apart
Do over: Actually, nothing. I tried writing much earlier (I finished three pages) and realized I had nothing to say. It was only when the universe presented me with a chunk of free time (after I was let go from one job) and a clean quiet place to work (I was house-sitting for someone, and the place came with a cleaning lady) that I decided to get serious and dig in. After that I couldn't stop myself.
HALLIE: Tune in tomorrow to hear from Sara J. Henry, Edith Maxwell, Barbara Ross, and Hank Phillippi Ryan
And in the meanwhile: What's the hardest thing you ever tried to learn to do and how long did it take you?