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I’ve heard it countless times: writers who have already dug their own career grave by lamenting that they are “too old” to pursue a writing career.
I still don’t know what they mean.
What does that mean, you’re too old? I would agree that if last rites are being performed and the doctor has told the family that you have only hours to live … maybe then it’s too late to fulfill your dreams of being a writer.
Otherwise, stop whining and get to work.
I once heard a story of a fellow who lamented that, at age 40, he was too old to attend law school.
“I’ll be almost 50 by the time I’m finished,” he said.
To which his friend replied, “You’ll be almost 50 anyway.”
What a wonderful reply!
I thought about this the other day when I noticed a fantastic story about a writer who didn’t let age or other obstacles overcome him.
James Arruda Henry had a long career as a lobster boat captain. The New Haven, Conn., man took care of his family and built his own home.
He was also illiterate. To bluff his way through “reading” a restaurant menu, he’d wait until someone else ordered and then he’d order the same meal.
He finally decided to do something about it and received tutoring help from family and friends. He began to try and read a book by George Dawson, “Life is So Good.” Henry would stay up late at night, trying to pronounce words and understand sentences.
“That was my job, trying to break the words up,” he said. “A lot of nights I cried because I couldn’t pronounce the word or know what it meant.”
He then learned to read slowly. In 2010, he approached literacy volunteer Mark Hogan. The 69-year-old Hogan has said that he was hugely inspired by Henry, and that his example makes his own advancing age more hopeful.
Think carefully about this. James Henry began reading very late in life.
But here’s the best part: He’s now a published author!
Here’s the very best part: He’s 98.
Henry’s self-published collection of essays about his life, “In a Fisherman’s Language,” has made the rounds, helped by his granddaughter. To date (since November 2011), the book has sold 3,000 copies, a number any publisher anywhere would be happy with.
Henry is from Portugal, and as a young man he was a boxer and seaman. These tales form his most excellent accomplishment, the book he wrote as he neared 100.
Like many of his era, Henry didn’t have much formal education. He was taken out of school in third grade to help earn a living. Quickly, he got into his life, and learning to read was never an option. Can you imagine?
His stunning success as a writer has prompted Henry to be a reading advocate for both young and old. He speaks to students and recently addressed an adult education convention!
“Don’t be afraid to go ahead and try,” he said. “It’s hard, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll enjoy it.”
We can rejoice for this man and at the same time, I think more than a few of us should be ashamed of ourselves for failing to reach out and try for writing dreams because we have some ridiculous excuses.
I’ve heard a ton of them:
I don’t have time.
Nobody would like what I write.
The competition is too fierce.
I don’t know how to find an editor or agent.
All those things might be true. Time is an issue for most of us. And yes, there’s competition, blah, blah, blah.
Yet, especially after reading about an inspirational giant like James Henry, you should be ashamed of yourself if you keep your writing dreams on a shelf. Here is a man who learned to read after the age of 90! Then he became an author!
The famous Anna Mary Robertson Moses – Grandma Moses –became an acclaimed painter at an advanced age, and she lived to be 101.
A key element to life is the willingness to move forward. Perhaps you have a string of failures behind you; perhaps as a writer, they are writing failures (rejection letters, etc.). If this is so, I want you to perform an exercise.
I want you to read a bit about people like James Henry and Grandma Moses. Heck, read a bit about Ulysses Grant. The man was an utter failure in everything he tried.
And then he won the Civil War.
Then he became president.
Virtually as he lay dying, he raced the clock to finish his memoirs, thus securing a sizable income for his widow.
You can sit around and whine about the obstacles to your writing. You might be, say, 64. That’s too old to put in some time and be a celebrated author at, say, 70, right?
You’re going to be 70 anyway.