Friday Fun – The Best Age to Be a Writer

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, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane 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, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

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.

JME5670V2smCROPJamie 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.

18 thoughts on “Friday Fun – The Best Age to Be a Writer

  1. What a fascinating topic. Just as with Diane my writing at a very early age wasn’t taken seriously nor encouraged and when I eventually became an academic, the style and discipline of academic writing silenced my enthusiastic and passionate writing voice for a very long time. However, I recently took a sabbatical from my academic role to write a tribute to my brother and his partner and their journey with terminal cancer and it has allowed me to rediscover the voice silenced so many years ago. I would therefore say that our voice changes with maturity and experience and perhaps like a good wine (the French in me!) ages into a good vintage.

  2. I was a closet writer in my early years, not only because I felt it wouldn’t be supported, but because of self-esteem issues–I didn’t think I was that good. It took many years to finally shrug off other people’s expectations, as well as my own. Only with maturity came the courage I needed to give myself permission to write.

  3. I was seriously encouraged by a number of people to write at a very early age – 16 or so – and kept putting it off. Life happened, I married early and missed the bus. Now, decades later, earning a living takes up so much time… but I’ve finally started making time for my own writing. And I wonder what I would have – could have – written about when I was very young? I had nowhere the wealth of experiences and perspectives I have now. I may be biased, but do believe wine needs a bit of ageing 🙂

  4. I am getting ready to retire this year after a career as a teacher. Teaching helped pay my way through school. It helped raise my children and get them through college as well. Now is my time to do what I have been doing all along in the seconds and moments I had including stop lights! Awwwww freedom!

  5. I would love to write and take it seriously, but my parents look down on it so I just keep it as a secret. I have my blog to try and help make it better while obeying my parent’s rules. 🙂

  6. In less than twenty minutes, I found in the Magazine Market section from the “Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2016,” the following blurbs:

    “We publish new writers alongside established writers.”
    “We are interested in fresh voices.”
    “We are very interested in publishing less experienced or unpublished writers with exceptional promise.”
    “We are interested in work from emerging writers.”
    “We enjoy discovering and fostering new talent.”
    “We are very open to the work of talented new writers.”

    I don’t think it’s a great stretch to understand “code” words such as NEW, FRESH, LESS EXPERIENCED, and the ubiquitous, EMERGING to refer, more often than not, to writers under thirty. If you are an “established” writer then you must be at least fifty years of age, right? Hmmmm.

    I’m sixty-seven. I consider myself an “emerging” writer. I started my writing career at the ripe old age of 45. I wrote stories and read them at literary gatherings, coffee houses, and wherever a group of folks got together to share their work. I loved it. My first publication with a “real” magazine was in June, 2013 when I was 64. (I would turn 65 in December.)
    I do believe that for “new” writers over the age 50, the playing field is not level. And if you want to believe that publishers, conferences, and writing programs are going to look at you-whose years number beyond fifty-the same way they look at twenty-somethings, then you are in for a big ol’ shock.

    But be that as it may, we still have one powerful weapon at our disposal…and that is GREAT WRITING. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. We must work hard to create a narrative that will do nothing less than stun the reader. If one does that, then age won’t matter.

  7. GREAT Post! I do agree, the right age to blog is NOW! Writers nowadays have so many options and avenues to get their work and ideas out to the masses. I am proud to be a writer now.

  8. Wow! I would love to really address this question in the detail it deserves. But, because I am probably the oldest (actually 73 in June). I must try to be brief because I have learned from the road of experience so much. I have to agree that the time to write, blog, express is NOW. Writing has been part of me since I was very young. Not as some craft to be learned. Not as a taught profession but like living, writing was and is a life force. I wont say I’ve ever written anything profound. Only history will determine. I have never fortunately wanted or needed writing to support me. Sadly, I had to be educated to ‘get a proper job’. By an absolute miracle I landed a job on a city newspaper and worked for nearly 8 years there. I thought I wanted to be a journalist. It was all offered. The Editor offered the chance to me. Then, with the dream of a University Degree and a cadetship before me…….I simply could not accept it…….The thought of being ‘trapped in a box’ ie forced to write a certain way for my existence frightened me. (one dream flew out the window).
    Every stage of life and every age from little, teen, twenties and now through all the other decades I have written. Certainly sometimes I have been paid other times I simply wrote and saw the rewards of sharing. Then faith……a childhood ‘out there’ concept……. then through a set of valley circumstances – BOOM! a LIFE TRUTH emerged. That’s why NOW for the first time in my life I have found the voice that is truly MINE. I am a Passionate Creative Christian….(as the blog says). BUT I write about real life, I write about real people, I’ll write about ageing and dying if someone asks BUT BUT BUT…inspiration continues to flow in an amazing way. At 70 my first novel was published Beyond the Ashes. My second and a book of Meditations are to launched in local library next month. .The sequel to Marranga-Limga (amazing did not know there would be a sequel) Began to write on 2nd Jan 2016. Who knows me? very few. Will my books ever be popular or ‘out there’ who knows?. I write. I live. I flow with inspiration. Hence the blog.
    To all of you a great book, any great story is always a joy and impressive. WRITE! WRITE! write!
    (a note here……. folks with lots of money can ‘self publish’. I surely don’t fit that catgegory. I did initially spend a sum of money to have a story assessed. I need to recoup that outlay. For anything else I now just let it flow. Aim for the best…. a good story will always grab attention! (sorry about the length of this reply). Cheers! Great Blog this Live to Write, Write. It is my life story.

  9. I’m 21 and writing has been a part of my life for a long time. It really became a part of me during the middle school years. I won a scriptwriting contest when I was 15 and that fueled me to keep writing. I feel like winning the competition made me feel like I had a voice that people wanted to hear. People would say to me all of the time that you need to write what you know. For a long time in my teen years, I thought I didn’t have anything substantial to say because I was, well, pretty young! I’ve realized in life that that’s not true. Everyone is in different stages in life and no matter how old you are, your voice is worth hearing (well, perhaps reading int his case!).

  10. I felt I would have been a writer at a younger age. I created several stories for school assignment however at the time there were not many resources available. Having encouragement to keep going would have gone a long way. I’m now in my 40’s and just starting to return to writing. The groups I am in keep my spirits up and the stories they share motivate me to get my stories down on ‘paper’.

  11. what an amazing thing to discuss and how clearly put out in words
    well said @Jamie Wallace “The worth of a book should not be at all judged by the age of its author – young, or old. ”
    I being young in my 20’s love writing and I don’t have a faith in myself to go big. I think I am in learning phase. I use to think that to great writers it comes naturally but here I can see there are a lot of people who go through the same phase like this.It is giving me a push on doing better and to be confident.

  12. I just published my first novel at the age of 40. In all honesty, I do not know whether my writing needed experience to make it better, I think so. The most important events in my life colour my writing, giving birth, addressing the sexual abuse I suffered as a teenager, dealing with a terminal parent. And the list goes on. I also write about work situations, dangerous moments… yes, I think YA fiction could have been a possibility in my 20s but I learned so much in my 30s and now in my 40s… I’ll be wise as hell by the time I am 80 😉

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