If you’re retired or approaching retirement age and have a manuscript you’ve been working on for years (or thinking about working on), you’re in good company! We’ve cobbled together a list of 11 best-selling writers who first started publishing after they retired or later in life.
We often hear about the young wunderkinds in publishing–like Eragon author Christopher Paolini and Frankenstein author Mary Shelly, published at 19 and 20 respectively–who hit the bestseller list seemingly still pre-pubescent. But for every one of them there are many more writers who hit their stride in their second acts.
Retirement may have been the end of tedious careers for many of the following authors, but thankfully it wasn’t the end to their writing. Here is a brief list of several famous authors who started late in life, some past retirement. Be inspired!
Great Retired Writers
Although Kaufman was a celebrated screenwriter earlier in his career (including the co-creator of Mr. Magoo), he did not begin writing his first novel, Bowl of Cherries, until he was 86 and didn’t see it published until he was 90. Mr. Magoo was unable to see it, though.
This great, Pulitzer Prize-winning author wrote 40 books AFTER the age of 40. His last novel was Recessional, written when he was 87. He is famous for his research and writing regimen that he maintained into his 80’s. The definition of prolific.
Frank McCourt’s story attracted worldwide attention when Angela’s Ashes was published in 1996, especially when the memoir—which recounted his impoverished childhood in Ireland and an adulthood teaching in New York—went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. It was published when McCourt was 66 years old.
Inspired by her daughter, Wilder began writing in her 40s, but she didn’t find great success until some 20 years later, when Little House in the Big Woods was published. The Little House books drew from Wilder’s experiences, so maybe waiting gave her some extra time to gather material. It also gave Michael Landon a new lease on life.
Doerr spent the first four decades of her life in California before moving to Mexico, where her husband Albert was working to restore a family-owned copper mine. The years spent there ultimately helped inspire the works she penned after Albert’s death. Doerr returned to California when she was in her 60s, finished her education, and began writing. Stones of Ibarra, Doerr’s first novel, was published when the author was 74 years old. It went on to win a National Book Award. Reread this and take note she finished her education in her 60’s.
Pollock garnered a lot of attention for his 2011 debut novel, The Devil All the Time, but not everyone knows that the author isn’t your typical promising young whippersnapper with a short story collection and a first novel. He dropped out of high school at 17 to work at a meatpacking plant, and then spent 32 years working at the Mead Paper Mill in Chillicothe, Ohio. Eventually, he was admitted to Ohio University’s MFA program.The year before he graduated — the same year he turned 55 — he published his first collection of short stories. Once again, Life was a good Teacher. 7. ANNA SEWELL
Sewell’s only published work is the classic Black Beauty. She began writing it at age 51 while in declining health and dictated much of the novel to her mother. At 57, she sold the book. Sewell died of hepatitis in 1878, just five months after the novel was published. Okay, forget my comment about writing is a healthy pursuit.
Adams served in World War II during his younger years and became a civil servant in what would later become the U.K.’s Department of the Environment. He wrote fiction in his spare time and told tales of a rabbit to his children on long car rides. The stories grew and became so complicated that he had to write them down. Eventually, when Adams was 54, a publisher picked up the now-beloved and best-selling Watership Down.
While working at the post office, Bukowski was able to publish some poetry and shorter works. When small indie publisher Black Sparrow Press offered him a deal in 1969, he quit his day job to devote himself to writing at age 49. He had finished his first novel, Post Office, within four weeks of leaving the post office and just kept going from there, eventually publishing thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, and six novels. This proves it’s better to go postal with your pen.
10. RAYMOND CHANDLER
Raymond Chandler lost his job as an oil executive during the Great Depression. It was the best thing that could have happened as it gave him the impetus to dedicate his time to writing and gave us one of the greatest detective fiction writers of all time. His first short story was published a year later in 1933, and his first novel, The Big Sleep, came out in 1939, when he was 44 years old. He would publish six more novels before his death in 1959 along with many more short stories and screenplays.
11. HELEN DEWITT
Helen DeWitt was 44 years old when she published her debut novel, The Last Samurai. After years spent juggling odd jobs and working simultaneously on many writing projects, she decided to set aside a month and write with NO INTERRUPTIONS. It took more than a month, but the results were worth it. They were months well spent.