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It was just a simple image, with the following quote: “My 90s were the most productive years of my life.”
The quote, by Harry Bernstein, is particularly inspiring because he wrote four books in the last decade of his life. He died in 2011 at the age of 101.
The British-born Bernstein became a U.S. citizen and worked as a script reader and freelance writer, retiring at 62. His books sprang from the loneliness he experienced after his wife, Ruby, died after 67 years of marriage.
I highlight Harry Bernstein because … what an inspiration! If you think you can’t write a book, or you’re too old to reach for your dreams … I guess you’re wrong.
It isn’t that Bernstein waited until his last couple decades to begin writing. He had been published here and there for quite some time, but perhaps it was the poignancy that finally pushed out of him the necessary elements for books that will long outlive him.
“I was too much alone,” he said. “My wife was dead. My friends were mostly gone. And so I found myself thinking about my past and the people I knew and the place I grew up. I was looking for a home.”
He spoke like a poet, like a literary soul.
Just think: Decades after retirement, Bernstein found great success with multiple book contracts.
Writing about Bernstein at www.growingbolder.com, Sunie Levin had this to say: “Big deal, I hear you saying. Of course you’re never too old to write a book. Nowadays, everybody writes a book. It’s so easy with publishing-on-demand and publishing on the Internet, anybody can get a book out there. That’s the problem. Not only can anyone write a book and get it published, everyone does.
“So what am I talking about? I’m talking about the fact that good writing has no age limit; that there is no expiration date on creative ability. I’m talking about writers that have written superb works, published by renowned firms, at an age when one would think nearly all their brain cells long ago would have vanished into the woolly fog of incipient dementia.”
Enter Harry Bernstein, whom Levin profiles in this piece.
When he was 96, Bernstein was published by Ballantine Books. The title, “The Invisible Wall,” received rave reviews.
As Levin wrote, “Not only did Ballantine publish it, but the reviews were fantastically favourable.”
Levin goes on to say something profound: “Brains and writing skill don’t go dead until the person goes dead.”
And Bernstein wasn’t an overnight success even in the smaller story of this particular project. The manuscript for “The Invisible Wall” languished for a year in slush piles until it was picked up (the book was also published in Britain by Hutchinson, a Random House imprint. The publishing director called Bernstein’s manuscript “unputdownable.” Don’t you love it?).
The takeaway from Harry Bernstein’s uncommon story is this: Never feel that you are too old, and never forget that quality writing is all-important.
I appreciate Sunie Levin’s words, because they are a reminder that Bernstein became a published author (by major publishing houses) because he was good, not because publishers wanted to make “an old man’s” dreams come true.
A writer can burn to be published, but ambition is lower on the list of necessary elements, in my view. Skill and hard work are the prime components to moving from writer to “author.”
The point also needs to be made that publishing success can’t be forced. That is, as I often say, timing trumps ambition, every time. We are often virtually forced to wait for that right moment. This is something Harry Bernstein understood.
They say with age comes quiet wisdom and patience. For many writers, that reality is often the key ingredient to succeeding.