Getting Published After 50

How I Overcome Mom Guilt To Become An International Debut Novelist
aliya ali afsal

In many ways, midlife may be considered as the ideal time to pursue your dreams of becoming an author. When you’re older, you have a wealth of emotional and life experiences that you can explore in your writing, which a younger author may lack. If you’ve been dreaming of becoming a writer for years, you will also have great stores of pent-up drive and ambition to propel you forward on this journey. Finally, the hard knocks that we all encounter with passing years, develop the sort of resilience and perspective that may help an older writer deal a little better perhaps, with the inevitable rejections and challenges on the road to getting published. So, a writing career later in life should be easy, right? Unfortunately, as I have discovered, being a mid-life debut author and a mom, brings a whole set of challenges too.

I am the author of Would I Lie To You, which will be published in the US and Canada in February 2022. It’s a story about a woman called Faiza who has secretly spent her family’s emergency savings. When her husband Tom suddenly loses his job, she must replace the money befo0re he discovers the truth. Although I’ve dreamt of becoming a writer for as long as I can remember, it was only as I approached my 50th birthday, that I decided to take the plunge. I was selected as one of 15 writers out of 250 applicants on a prestigious creative writing course in London and started writing my novel.  I loved being part of a writers’ group with people who took their writing seriously and made time for it. Everything seemed to be going well, but then, I hit a block.

I was a mom of three in my late 40s, working full time, caring for my elderly mother, and had a wide circle of friends and family. I suddenly found a huge conflict between my desire to write and the time it required, and my lifelong role as someone who ‘looked after’ the people I loved. The changes that my writing brought around in my routine, were not only difficult for me to adjust to, but also hard for my loved ones to accept. My writing destabilised everything in my world.

Despite my attempts to find time to write, and to make it a part of my life, other lifelong responsibilities inevitably pushed my writing aside, as my time and energy was already accounted for elsewhere. Even when I did manage to set up routines like going to the library on Saturdays to write, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the other things that I ‘should’ have been doing instead, I started to worry about not looking after my family and above all, I started to feel guilty. I knew that getting published was not easy and the odds were against me. I wasn’t getting paid as I wrote and there was no guarantee that I would get a book deal. My dream agent (the one who I eventually signed with), received around 5k queries a year and only offered representation to 10 authors. Some friends viewed my writing as a ‘hobby’ and didn’t understand why I was spending so much time on it. I wondered if this was all a little self-indulgent of me and whether it was fair to take time away from my family, friends and from work, for a ‘long shot’ dream? So, a few months after starting my novel, I stopped, and I didn’t write for three years.

I no longer felt guilty, but I was miserable without my writing, and I couldn’t stop thinking about my novel. Unable to solve this uncomfortable conundrum myself, I decided to get some CBT therapy. This was the key step for me. I came to realise that I didn’t need anyone else’s approval or permission to write and that if this was indeed my dream, I needed to honour my own needs as well as those of the people I loved. For me, this mental switch, where I decided to commit to my writing, irrespective of whether I ‘succeeded’ or not, and realising that it was also a priority, made all the difference. As mid-life dream chasers, we need to make space for our writing in our lives. I did this by ‘disappearing’ to a café a couple of times a week, after work or at the weekend. Later, when I needed to complete my editing, I ran away to a budget hotel room for a week, away from other responsibilities. These logistics and ring- fenced time are important, However, even the logistics are easy to implement, once you have set aside any guilt. I think this is a particular issue for a lot of moms. I can’t imagine many fathers having these qualms! 

When I came back to my novel, it took me around three years to complete it. I was lucky enough to sign with my agent a few weeks later and was subsequently offered international book deals at auction, for my debut novel. I am so glad that I didn’t give up totally, despite ‘giving up’ temporarily, for three years.

If you’ve always dreamt of being a writer, remember to make space for your dream in your life and in your mind, and in your heart. Remember that you don’t have to justify it to anyone either. Give yourself permission to go for it. It’s never too late!

Aliya Ali-Afzal has a degree in Russian and German from University College London and worked as an Executive MBA Career Coach in London. While helping her clients to pursue their dream lives and careers, she decided to take her own advice and become a writer. Her debut novel, Would I Lie To You? was published in the UK in July 2021, and in the USA in Spring 2022. Aliya is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, is an alum of Curtis Brown Creative, and has had her writing longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, the Mslexia Novel Competition, the Mo Siewcharran Prize, and the Primadonna Prize. Aliya lives in London but has also spent time in Moscow, St Petersburg, Amsterdam, Cairo, Munich, and Lahore. You can reach her on Twitter @AAAiswirting or Instagram @aliyaaliafzalauthor 

Pre-order link for WOULD I LIE TO YOU?

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