"Writing is an Act of Courage"
My first novel, "The Secret Life of Bees", was published when I was 53 years old. This photo was taken on the dock behind our house the day it came out. In the picture, I appear calm and collected, but inside I was filled with awe and incredulity. I was overcome with the realization that I’d done what I’d set out to do: I’d written a novel. That was the awe part. That the novel had gotten published was the incredulity part.
Approaching fifty, I’d worried that I couldn’t find the potency to generate the third act I wished for. I began writing The Secret Life of Bees at 48, filled with self-doubt. I’ve told the following story a hundred times, but here goes the hundred and first. Not long after this photo was taken, I gave a talk about my new novel at a bookstore. During the Q&A a woman asked, “Did you write the book yourself?” I still have no idea what she meant, but what popped into my head was that she’d taken one look at me and thought, This woman couldn’t possibly write a novel. No doubt this came to me because I’d spent a lot of time thinking the same thing.
Here’s something else I’ve said a hundred times (probably more like a thousand): writing is an act of courage. That’s true at any age. But maybe we have to take an extra deep breath when we begin what feels like a daring venture later in life. Fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty… it’s never too late. Life is filled with large and small renaissances all the way to the end. Older women, particularly, have cultivated the wild heart, wise mind, and daring spirit that make third acts and late life renaissances possible.
I mean, if you’re going to err, you might as well do so on the side of audacity.