Late Bloomers

Earlier this week I listened to Terry Gross’s interview with author Donald Ray Pollock, whose novel, The Devil All the Time, was just released. His first book, a collection of short stories titled Knockemstiff, set in the eponymous Southern Ohio town where he grew up, was published in 2008. His gritty, often bleak tales won not only critical acclaim, but the PEN/Robert Bingham Award and the 2009 Devil’s Kitchen Award in Prose. His was an unusual—and protracted—journey to being a writer. According to NPR, “Pollock dropped out of high school at the age of 17 to work in a meatpacking plant. He then spent 32 years working in a paper mill before quitting to pursue his dream of becoming a writer.” I thought this was a pretty terrific story. I found further inspiration re-reading Malcolm Gladwells 2008 New Yorker piece on late bloomers.

In it he writes “On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revising and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all. Prodigies are easy. They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith.”

I wondered if any of you are, like Pollock, relative late (new) comers to creative writing?  Holler if “forbearance and blind faith” sound familiar.

5 Responses to Late Bloomers

  1. It’s such a comfort to know that I’m not the only “late bloomer” out there when it comes to this writing gig. I finished my first book at age 49, and was thrilled to see it published and in bookstores a few months after I turned 50! Like Mr. Pollock, I was a terrible student (I had a hard time showing up during my grade 12 year!) and always dreamed of a somewhat bohemian life full of words and art and unusual clothing and travel. I tried on a million different “jobs” throughout my 20’s, and 30’s. Everything from operating a mobile bookmobile, to running a front-end loader, to bartending, to office work (ugh) and finally settled teaching art in a private boarding school (the irony is not lost on me!) In my late 40’s, I guess I began thinking, as people do, of mortality. If I was going to write, I’d better get on with it! So that’s what I did. My kids were pretty much hatched and fledged, and I now had no excuses NOT to write. I thought back to myself as a young child. That’s what I did. All. The. Time. I wrote in forts. I wrote under the dining room table. I wrote at the old Underwood typewriter, on reams of yellow fullscap paper. I wrote bad horse stories about girls with pluck. I passed on play dates so I could work on “my books.”
    At age 49, it felt wonderful to come back to myself. I feel now, at age 51, that I am living a truly authentic life, using the gift I was put here on the planet to use. I still work part time at the school, but I have 3 other books in various stages of completion, and many more story ideas on the back burner, simmering nicely.
    The difference now, at age 51, is that I trust I can do it. And I’m writing first and foremost, for myself.
    Three cheers for us old farts who are pulling up our socks and making it happen, in spite of our dotage, or perhaps, because of it.

  2. I’m a latecomer. I wrote my first book at age 46. Up to that time, I swore I would never write fiction. Apparently, I lied.

    One day I woke up and there was a story in my head that wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down. Then another, and another. I’m in the planning stages of my 5th book now, but I know I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) have done this any earlier in my life.

  3. Barbara Plum says:

    I’m not a late bloomer to writing. Started in high school, took creative writing classes in college, and stopped writing–except in my head–during several major career changes. Then, BANG! My Fortune-500 company offered me early, early retirement. I jumped at the chance, wrote night and day for ten years before “getting the call” for my first two novels. I was definitely a late bloomer to publication.
    “Forbearance and blind faith and an insane passion for writing kept me going for five more years. My next novel, PRESUMED GUILTY, will be released as an e-book and as a traditional print offering in October. Late bloomer that I be, I’m writing under a new name in a new genre in a new world . . . still clinging to “forbearance and blind faith” as stepping stones into a post-mid-life career I intend to pursue into full-blown geezerdom.

  4. DBurks says:

    ‘Forbearance and blind faith’? That is a good description. I am a latecomer to writing fiction, but my earliest memories are of creating stories. I was never ever bored as a child because I could make up stories endlessly in any blank moment. It was a sort of invisible mischief once I learned not to move my lips. It became a lifelong habit so I have had much practice in refining my methods. Our professional educators are really quite good at discouraging imagination so I forbore telling stories and instead followed a career in medicine which was so much more practical. My imagination and the stories never stopped, and I had ‘blind faith’ that eventually I would get them committed to paper. Now that I have retired I have begun to do just that, and it is fun.

    I must admit that my early stories were too limited by my inadequate skill. I have spent the last four decades writing consultation reports about critically ill patients at all hours of the day and night in all sorts of conditions. There is no opportunity to revise or edit in such circumstances, and the words must be precise and correct the first time so that any reader will understand them exactly as intended. All that experience is a mixed blessing since my fiction tends to be a little too concise, and I must work at creating suspense and ambiguity.

    The long delay in starting my fiction career has given me an advantage: I have seen and dealt with several thousand people in the worst of circumstances. Forty years ago I could write a good story, but the characters would have been too simple. I can create truly genuine characters from real life, and I believe an experienced reader can tell. No poor budding writer of 25 has enough imagination to replicate that no matter how extravagrant their vocabulary.

    So, while I blossomed as a story teller long ago it has taken time for the fruit to mature enough to produce really fine stories. Now that I have the time and a fine computer even my meager typing skill can not hold me back. Finding a publisher would be nice, I suppose, but I shall write stories for the same reason as always: I enjoy doing it every day.

  5. TryThis Again says:

    Hopefully I haven’t posted this 3 times…computer glitches…

    Thanks for links to both the “Climbers” piece about Rwandan cyclists, and the one on late bloomers.

    Yes, I’m a late bloomer. I’m kind of a younger-looking late bloomer (kind of), and it’s a little embarrassing in a writer’s group, for instance, when someone puts you in the early bloomer category, and it’s like, “but I’m…I’m…” And then you have to watch the changes their face goes through, as they digest the fact that, well, maybe you’re both the same age. Needless to say, I’m very happy with the few gray hairs I’ve got (although now that I’ve said that, I’ll probably wake up white-haired tomorrow) (although I did always like my grandmother’s fluffy-glossy white hair).

    PS I had commented previously, but the comment apparently disappeared: Your Oracle of Amun experience made for a lovely vignette. PPS Would also love to query on a nonfiction piece about Amtrak route between Pontiac and Ann Arbor, “Amtraku” (play on haiku/Timbuktu), but I made a vow, as we late bloomers sometimes must, to finish my novel by December. First things first.

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