Look up ‘Penelope Fitzgerald’ on Wikipedia and you’ll be given the following summary: Penelope Mary Fitzgerald (1916–2000) was an English Booker Prize–winning novelist, poet, essayist, and biographer. In 2008, The Times included her in a list of “the 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.
An impressive and accurate bio of an ambitious woman. What that snippet doesn’t tell you though, was that in 1970, aged 53, Penelope hadn’t written a thing. She’d been somewhat preoccupied supporting a family of five on a teacher’s salary, and living in a leaking Houseboat on the River Thames; a boat which eventually sank.
Having graduated from Oxford University in the 1930s, she was a star student and her professors expected big things. However for Penelope, as for many of us, life had a knack of constantly getting in between her and her passion – in this case writing. When she finally did commit to writing her first book, she went on to publish 9 novels and 2 biographies. And it was her last novel, ‘The Blue Flower’, which made her a literary celebrity at the age of 80.
Penelope Fitzgerald’s story isn’t really about it ‘never being too late’. Instead, it shows sleeping potential, and how once you crack how to work, you’ve overcome a huge obstacle! Luckily for us, she shared some guidance on what she’d learnt in a 1980 letter written to someone seeking advice on writing:
“I hope you’ll be completely ruthless… take the best typewriter for yourself, neglect all the friends who come to stay, the hens, the course members, etc, in favour of the writing, otherwise it’s not possible to get it done.”
Sound extreme? Maybe. But if you don’t prioritise your ambitions, you can wind up giving all your time to other people’s priorities. Maybe your plans warrant you being a little more ruthless. Ruthless with your time, ruthless with your connections, ruthless with your investments. Fitzgerald’s first book took 4 years to write but the following 6 books were written within 5 years! The hardest part on your journey is actually working out how to manage and prioritise your process. Once you’ve cracked that, the creating can follow.
“As they say, ‘this moment is not your life. But it is a moment in your life.’ How will you use it?”
– Ryan Holiday