At 25, most of us were just happy to have our car insurance premiums go down.
But for F. Scott Fitzgerald, his top accomplishment at 25 was publishing This Side of Paradise, his 1920 debut novel. Five years later, he published his most popular novel, The Great Gatsby.
And Fitzgerald wasn't really an outlier. Tolstoy, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Hardy: all of them published their first novel before they hit their 30s.
Granted, some novelists who published young didn't create literary gold until later years. John Steinbeck, for example, debuted his writing chops when he was 28, but he's mostly remembered for two works that he wrote later in life: The Grapes of Wrath at age 38 and East of Eden at age 51.
The following infographic, created by Blinkbox Books, breaks down the ages of over 60 authors to show you just how old your favorite writers were when they found success. You can sort the information in three ways: the age of the author at the time of her breakthrough, the age of the author at the time of her first published book, and the number of books published by an author.
There are a few ways of looking at this information. One way is obviously to look at how young some famous authors were when they found success. But if you're a thirtysomething working on your first novel, that might be discouraging. In that case, you might want to note Richard Adams's age when he published his first novel, Watership Down: 53.
Another way of reading this chart might be to pay attention to the total number of books each author produced. It's true that Fitzgerald was writing brilliant prose in his 20s — but it's also noteworthy that he only produced five novels.
James Patterson, on the other hand, produced 8 books at the beginning of his career, between the ages of 30 and 49. That's not a bad total! But beginning in his 50th year — right around the time of his retirement from his non-writing job — Patterson really hit a stride. Since that time, the author has published 40 books.
The point of this chart isn't to help you determine what age you should be when you publish your first book. These expectations, like many of those we force upon ourselves, are probably unrealistic. Not to mention, they may create unnecessary stresses that actually prevent us from accomplishing the goal at all.
Rather, what this chart should help you see is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to writing a novel. Some writers will publish young. Some will publish later in life. The point is to remember that no matter which writer you are — or hope to become — there are plenty of literary giants you can look to as role models.
Happy writing, no matter your age!