Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On Turning 39—One Time Only

blog2 There aren’t many jobs where youth is a disadvantage. I believe writing is one of them.

Actually, I don’t think someone in their 30s is particularly young. Until recently, the 30s was considered middle-aged. And society in general doesn’t consider someone in their 30s young.

But then there’s the writing world.

My favorite uncomfortable moment was when I was with a panel of writers 5 years ago. The author next to me rambled on and on with his top piece of writing advice—live first, then write. Don’t even try to submit for publication until you’ve lived for a while—preferably your fifties. The audience all winced at me and I pretended I didn’t hear him. Nothing like being told you’re not qualified to do your job in front of a roomful of people.

It's very true that your writing improves with practice. You naturally get this practice as you get older. Of course you're a better writer later. But are you more qualified to write if you're older? I'm not so sure.

Other problems with being a young author:

Your bio will likely be pitiful.

You probably will make fewer in-person appearances because of parenting duties or career demands.

I write protagonists that are old enough to be my grandparents and am frequently questioned by readers about my qualifications for doing so.

One upside is that publishers know that you’ve got the potential for a long career ahead of you. Oh—and at least you have your youth. And you’re getting older every day!

Is it harder to write when you haven’t yet experienced a full life? Maybe. But it’s definitely possible. Emily Dickinson’s reclusiveness meant that she didn’t experience a full life—and yet she managed to write poetry that were masterpieces.

I turned 39 today. Next year? I’m turning 40. And it’s a good thing.