Late Bloomers are guest blog posts at A is for Aging—sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.
Today’s post is by children’s author Beth Anderson:
The itch to write has always been with me. In elementary school, I wrote poems, plays, and puppet shows. Teachers encouraged me.
In junior high, I discovered joy in point of view, personification, and figurative language. Teachers encouraged me.
In high school, I wrote a “Canterbury Tale”—in couplets, for 24 pages. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. A teacher encouraged me, but also drilled into me the habits of good writing. Thank you, Mrs. McCullough! In college, her lessons paid off. And I had developed a love of language.
Several times during adult life, I thought about writing for children. Pre-internet—with working and kids. (I don’t know how you young writers do it!), I really didn’t know where to start.
But my life experiences were accumulating.
And as I taught ESL in elementary and middle school, I used children’s literature as a springboard for language, grammar, history, and science. I witnessed the power of story and true tales to open students’ worlds and inspire questions, thinking, and learning.
Teaching writing, I shared some of my own stories from my childhood. I was stunned by the students’ reaction. Suddenly, I was a writer. It was like a magic door—for me and for them as they began to write from the heart. When they asked what I was going to do in retirement, I admitted I’d love to write for children. They encouraged me, and I knew I had to give it my best shot.
“I think we often underestimate the value of life experience.”
In the fall of 2013 at age 59, I researched the industry, joined writing groups, and began to write. I started with fiction, tried to find my voice. And when I tackled an historical story, I immediately knew this was my path. With SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), critique partners, online groups and classes, and lots of encouragers, I found my way.
Beneath the surface, I was drawing on much more than these “writing” resources. I think we often underestimate the value of life experience. Equipped with life lessons involving rejection and criticism, success and failure, patience and perseverance, I’ve been better able to navigate the ups and downs of this endeavor than I would have at a younger age.
Knowing what kinds of children’s literature I enjoyed and valued as an educator, I’ve quickly found my passion within the field. I’m drawn to quirky bits of history, thought-provoking untold tales, and love the “accidental” learning that comes in the midst of a great story.
The teacher in me still guides my choices and telling, and the language nerd in me rejoices in well-crafted literary elements. Through the years, I’ve learned how to self-evaluate and seek out what I need.
The continual learning about the world and craft of writing feeds my brain, and I’m very fortunate to have the time to research and write, as well as the support of those around me. Age has brought a refreshing freedom.
I signed with agent Stephanie Fretwell-Hill with Red Fox Literary in early 2016 and sold my first manuscript in the fall. AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION came out from Simon & Schuster in 2018. Find it here.
My second book, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT: ELIZABETH JENNINGS FIGHTS FOR STREETCAR RIGHTS releases Jan. 7, 2020 from Calkins Creek Books. And Kirkus Reviews gave it a star! It still seems a bit surreal.
Here I sit at age 65, officially a senior citizen, my sixth book awaiting revisions, a new submission being sent out into the world, and a pile of research on my desk. I credit my life experience and all the encouragers—family, friends, teachers, and generous kid lit community.
I read once that one of the best things to do in retirement is to be a rookie at something. I have to agree!
And I encourage you to go after your itch!
When she’s not writing, Beth might be weaving, gardening, exploring nature, or playing with her grandkids. Beth’s website
Illustrators: E.B. Lewis
Copyrighted images courtesy of Beth Anderson.
Thank you Beth!
Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.
“Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”
(Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.)
(For further resources, see books Secrets to Becoming a Late Bloomer: Extraordinary ordinary people on the art of staying creative, alive and aware in mid-life and beyond by Connie Goldman & Richard Mahler; The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life by Gene D. Cohen M.D.; What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life by Bruce Frankel.)