Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.
QUESTION: Now there’s a loaded question, right? Very young and very old writers typically get more than their share of attention in the publishing world. Precociously young writers impress us with their early onset virtuosity while older first-time writers earn our respect for their perseverance and chutzpah. But what about all the writers who break onto the scene in the unimpressive years between, say, thirty and fifty? Are their feats any less impressive for having come in mid-life? Are there advantages to publishing super early in life, or super late? What say you?
Diane MacKinnon: I just read that James Joyce wrote his short story, “Clay,” when he was 18. Yikes! When I was 18, I was working at Bradlees and going to the beach on the weekends with my friends, waiting for college to start in the fall. Once it did, I studied for my classes and spent the rest of the time having fun with my friends. I wasn’t staying up nights alone in my room writing.
I think some people have the drive to write early in life, but others need to have lived a little, to have had some experiences, before they can really become writers. There must be advantages to writing and publishing early, but I think there’s also a lot to be said for having a variety of experiences before really diving into a writing life. Also, many of us don’t have “permission” to write early in life. I started journalling at age 11, but no one in my family thought writing was a viable profession for an adult, so I was influenced to “do something useful.” Many of us decide to give ourselves permission to write once we’ve gotten a little older (or a lot older.) If you need permission from someone else to write, ask me, I will definitely give you permission!
Deborah Lee Luskin: As both the oldest of the Live to Write bloggers and one slightly obsessed with The Middle Ages (one of my blogs), I have to take issue with cutting Middle Age off at 50! In a recent post about retirement, I note how three newly retired men are looking forward to concentrating on writing projects. So no, I don’t think there’s any age limit on writing. The limits are those of dedication (doing the work and not just talking about it) and craft (learning how to control language). That’s the writing part; publishing is different: the publishing industry is cruelly slanted toward youth.
Jamie Wallace: While I ooh and ahh along with everyone else when some startlingly young literary protegé hits the limelight with a bestseller, I tend to think that with age comes – if not wisdom – at least a more interesting perspective … depth … subtlety. I realize I am likely prejudiced by my own age (I am only a few short years away from the half century mark), but I do find the industry’s preoccupation with young writers rather pointless and mostly unwarranted. The worth of a book should not be at all judged by the age of its author – young, or old. Using an author’s age as a promotion tactic demeans the work on either end of the scale.
There is no universally perfect age to write or to publish. All writing is built on the foundation of the writing (and reading!) that came before. We cannot say that writers, as a group, mature at a certain age. They cannot be predictably aged like wine or whiskey. The “right” time for writing is always now, in this moment, consistently and persistently. As for when a writer breaks the code and suddenly becomes visible to the cultural consciousness, that happens when the writer has found his or her stride – when the writing that has come before has finally become a strong enough foundation to support a Good Story. It has little, if anything, to do with age.
That said, I encourage anyone who wants to become a writer to write as soon and as often as possible. It is not the passage of years that makes a great writer, but the writing that he or she has done.