The Age-Old Question (of Age)

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I have been writing for a very, very long time. It’s hard to put an exact number on it because I literally cannot remember a time that I wasn’t writing. The first story that I can vividly recall was one I wrote as part of a short story competition with my brothers. It was titled, appropriately, “The Competition,” and detailed the troubles of a young girl who was the star of her ice skating team but broke her leg before their big competition. I’m not sure my exact age, although I know I was still living in Wisconsin, so probably 5 or 6. So I’ve got at least 2 decades of writing experience under my belt.

One, writing that makes me feel old. It brings to mind this excellent xkcd which lists the relative ages of keystone movies. “Did you realize The Matrix came out not last decade, but the one before that?” (The comic itself is dated to 2011 which just adds to the sting.)

Two, it makes me feel defeated. The real gutpunch of that xkcd comic is the alt text (the true key to xkcd’s awesomeness, in case you were unaware). “If you’re 15 or younger, then just remember that it’s nevertheless probably too late to be a child prodigy.” I know this sounds silly, but I always had dreams of being a sort of child prodigy when it came to my writing. I finished my first novel-length manuscript when I was thirteen. Sure, it had its problems. But it was my starter novel. I finished my second novel when I was a sophomore in high school. I was fifteen. Surely I had learned from my earlier mistakes. A little editing would make this one salable. I was well on my way to being an astonishing teenaged author of a blockbusting fantasy novel. I would do a book tour that included Conan O’Brien (still on NBC, hosting Late Night) and Oprah.

Me about to commence a serious writing career!

Well, that didn’t happen. And to add insult to injury, that was right around when Christopher Paolini became famous for being the astonishing teenaged author of a blockbusting fantasy novel. I told myself that my second novel was just a warm-up, and my third novel would surely be The One. Maybe I was too late to be published by the time I was 16, but 20 was still far away.

Turns out I didn’t even finish that third novel until I was 22 (I took a long hiatus!). And as much as I loved it, and as much as I edited it, I never got any nibbles on those queries (it is the one known as “novel 1” here). The third novel went on the back of the shelf. I worked on short stories and other projects and other novels, and eventually I started on what is now “novel 6” (it’s my fourth completed novel ms). And time kept passing by. Now I’m 26, and I am old enough to realize I’m never going to be an astonishing young author. People my age are getting published all the time. And even though I’ve been working on it for two decades, I’m not among them. It’s disheartening and frustrating and insanely stupid to worry about.

I know I’m far from old. But I’m also not young anymore. I’m an adult, and it’s time to follow through on childhood fantasies and make them a reality!

4 thoughts on “The Age-Old Question (of Age)

  1. John Zeleznik

    FWIW, I'm 41. I started querying WINTER when I was 35. I started WINTER when I was 33.

    I'm going to try and not be that "you don't know nothing about age thing" in this response. I am insanely jealous of the "kids" these days getting deals, not because they are getting deals but because they had the wherewithal to follow follow through on their dreams…you are doing the same thing. I was a stooge and moron in my youth and if I'd had my head at least partially in the game I wouldn't be teaching right now, but I'd be making a living as a writer.

    Stick with it. I've written three trunk novels that will never see the light of day, two because they are lost in the bottom of a tote somewhere in my parents basement if they weren't thrown out because I didn't write on a computer (sorry, I said I wasn't going to do the whole "whippersnapper" thing). One was a mess of a contemporary novel about losers working in the retail food industry, the other two are fantasy monsters that I'm pretty sure suck. (One was a Gor pastiche that was pretty bad.) I've also had dozens and dozens of partials that are strewn all over the central NY area by now, not to mention the ones on the various memory storing equipment in my home.

    It'll happen, don't pay attention to what other people are doing, that's the shortest route to insanity.

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  2. Nora

    It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who struggles with this! I too think about my wasted youth. I took about a 5 year break from writing (not purposefully, it just kind of happened), and when I reconnected with it, I realized how much I had missed it and how much I could have gotten done! I guess it's better to just focus on what is still to come—great things for both of us, I am sure! 😉

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  3. Jay

    As a 26 year old who does not even remotely have 20 years of writing under her belt, I am glad to see that even those who do still have these doubts. I spent much of my childhood daydreaming and making up stories in my head, or drawing (with a very long lapse between ages 14 and 20), but didn't actually write any of them down. Now I am hopeful to start learning about the craft and making it part of my career, and it is scary! So keep going. You're way ahead of a lot of us 🙂 and really, you and I are both just getting out of our diapers and learning how to walk in the long timeline that is life.. still plenty of decades ahead.

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