Your NPR news source

How To Write Your First Novel In Your 40s With Linda Holmes

SHARE How To Write Your First Novel In Your 40s With Linda Holmes
Linda Holmes

“You have a long time for your particular set of talents to mature,” says NPR’s Linda Holmes, a first-time novelist at age 48. “There is time for who you are to change at literally any phase of your life.”

Photo by Tim Coburn/Book cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House

If you know NPR’s Linda Holmes, it’s probably not as a novelist.

She’s a public radio pop culture correspondent, she co-hosts NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast and her recalcitrant dog Brian is mildly famous on Twitter.

But she always wanted to write a book. She’s 48 and she says she’s been putting together “little pieces” of a novel since 2012.

“This is what I think my story does actually prove,” Holmes said on Nerdette. “The fact that you haven’t gotten something done by a certain point in your life does not mean you’re not going to.”

Her first novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over, begins with the title character learning, moments before she leaves her husband, that he’s been killed in a car accident. It hits bookshelves Tuesday.

Holmes talked with Nerdette’s Greta Johnsen about what to do when you know you’ve got a book in you.

How to write your first novel (at any age)

Linda Holmes: The advice that I can give from experience is if something kind of needles at you, if something kind of keeps poking at you to do it, then just keep doing it. And then at some point, you may find that a story has enough hooks in you that you feel like you have to keep going with it.

I would also encourage people — I think especially if it’s the first novel that you’ve written — there are people who feel like, “I should know everything that’s going to happen in the entire book. I should know everywhere that this is going to go from the minute that I sit down to write it, because otherwise what’s going to happen? I’m just going to run out of story in the middle.”

It’s extremely common for people to feel like they’re running out of story at approximately 30,000 words which is about the end of the first act of a book. Extremely common. And it’s because your idea for the book is often the first act of a book. Don’t be afraid to write the first act of the book and then see how you feel. Because that’s what I did. I only really knew what about the first third was.

Why it’s never too late

Holmes: It has to do with identity, too, right? It has to do with the fact that your identity is not set in stone when you are any particular age the way that often people feel like it’s supposed to be.

And I always try to find a way not to sound like an old person when I say this to people, but when I talk to people in their 20s and they’re genuinely upset about the fact that they feel like, “I don’t really know what my direction is and I’m 27, I’m 28.” I mean, it’s incredibly privileged to be able to say you still have a ton of time, right? Because you don’t have a ton of time to pay your rent and do things like that, but you have a ton of time for your identity, particularly as a creative person, to develop. And you have a long time for your particular set of talents to mature. And that I do feel really, really strongly about. There is time for who you are to change at literally any phase of your life.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was produced and adapted for the web by Justin Bull.

More From This Show
Peter Sagal and co-host emeritus Tricia Bobeda play Burden or Delight!