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WritinginCommunityToday, I’m happy to share a post on writing and artistry by Lucy Adkins. She is the co-author (along with Becky Breed) of Writing in Community: Say Goodbye to Writer’s Block and Transform Your Life.

Late Bloomers

It’s never too late to be what you might have been.- George Eliot

I didn’t start to write seriously until I was in my mid-forties, and although I was overjoyed in (finally) discovering what I truly loved, from time to time I find myself with a bad case of the “If Only’s.” If only I’d started writing earlier….if only I’d taken creative writing in college….

When I start to think that way, I like to think about people like Grandma Moses, who didn’t take up painting until her late seventies, and then went on to astound the world. Or Laura Ingalls Wilder who published the first of her many books at age 64. There are other “late bloomers” like this, people like Martha Stewart who launched her now-famous magazine when she was forty-nine, Helen Mirren who landed her career-making Prime Suspect role at age 45, and David Sedaris, author of Me Talk Pretty One Day, who first appeared on NPR at age 44. Their accomplishments did not come until later in life, but they did come—and for those of us who are men or women of a certain age and are concerned about the time we have left to achieve our creative dreams, this is encouraging.

Why is it that some artists and writers—“geniuses” like Mozart and Picasso—find success early on in their lives, and others not until much later? Malcolm Gladwell, in an article in The New Yorker shared a theory expounded by University of Chicago economist, David Galenson, that the answer lies in the particular artist’s approach to their art, what is it he or she wishes to achieve, what it is they are after.

Some artists, Galenson said, (like Picasso) are “conceptual,” and having in mind a “clear idea of where they [want] to go,” keep all their energies focused like a laser beam on that objective until it is achieved. And with that concept firmly in mind and that focus, their efforts often find success early on.

For other artists,(like Cezanne), the driving force is not in regards to a particular concept—it’s all about the journey, exploring with technique and seeing what happens. Cezanne painted, tore up canvases, and painted again until….after a great deal of experimentation…he liked what he painted. This kind of searching takes time, and for artists like Cezanne, blooming occurs late.

This is Galenson’s theory, and an interesting one it is. But for many of us, the answer as to why our creative successes take place later in life may be much simpler. We started late. Not seriously beginning to pursue our creative passions until our forties or fifties or sixties—or even later. This might happen for several reasons:

  • We didn’t find our passions until later in life.
  • We were discouraged in our early efforts—discouraged by parents, teachers, or friends. Discouraged even by ourselves, thinking that our dream was too frivolous, too hard, or that we lacked talent.
  • We didn’t have enough financial resources to attain the education and training we needed, and it was necessary to spend the majority of our time making a living.
  • We needed to devote our energies and time to raising a family.

Whatever the reason, late bloomers like Grandma Moses, David Sedaris, and others provide hope that whatever age we are, it is not too late. It is not too late to learn to paint, to play a musical instrument, or to try your hand at writing. Encouraging news.  — Lucy Adkins

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