How Old Is Too Old?

This New York Times article annoyed me yesterday. Oh, it’s an interesting article (thanks to @wolfsonliterary for tweeting it!), about the inspiration for Suzanne Collins’ young adult Hunger Games series. It’s fun to read as a writer because, no, Suzanne didn’t spring from Zeus’s forehead as a full-grown bestseller. She’s been honing her craft and working as a writer for years.

No, what annoyed me was a toss off sentence in regards to Collins’ first book: “When it was published, Collins was already 41.”

The implication being, of course, that omigod! She was already really old!

I looked up the staff writer of the article and she’s not the fresh-faced 20-something I’d imagined. Perhaps some of her own angst leaked in there. It happens. She might be feeling the passage of years, wondering how much time she has left to do everything she dreams of.

It seems I know a lot of young writers. Perhaps because more young people tend to use the interwebs than older ones. Many of the hot new YA writers are young, too, so that could be part of the surprise with Collins. I hear a pervasive restlessness from the younger crowd, bemoaning the loss of their twenties, lamenting that they’ve hit a milestone birthday without reaching their publication goals, watching the approach of OMG 40! with horror.

The thing is, we’re not football players or ballerinas. Our careers aren’t over at 28. Most writers write their entire lives. And, writing is the kind of pursuit that improves with age. In fact, a number of studies show that the average age for writers to have a bestseller is 50.5.

(No – I have *no* idea why that article is on a golf cart website. I’ve read lots of studies/data like that and that was the first I found. Perhaps they think retirees searching for high-end golf carts might also want to finally write that novel? Could be.)

I went through a stack of notebooks and journals last night, looking for some information for author and writing buddy, Laura Bickle. I don’t really journal extensively, but starting in about 1993, I took notes from writing classes, visiting authors, martial arts and philosophy classes, and wrote down story ideas and research in bound journals. It kind of makes for an interesting chronological mishmash of what I was thinking.

One thing that struck me, though, from those early writing notes, is how much I’ve grown since then. Confidence as a writer, yes. But also in perception, craft and skill. I *know* so much more now than I did at 27. That might seem self-evident, but the novels I write now are not ones I was capable of writing then. It’s exciting to think of what I might be capable of in another twenty years.

By then they’ll have really good voice-recognition software, too. I’ll just lay back and dictate. While handsome men feed me grapes.

What were we saying about fantasy yesterday?

10 Replies to “How Old Is Too Old?”

  1. Here, here! Most writers can't hit their stride in their 20s because there's so much living and growing they haven't done. It's not a slight against them. It's just life. I was a different person in my 20s than I am now, and it shows in my writing, not just craft and subject matter but also in depth. The good news is it'll only get better.

  2. Oh wow. Thanks for writing this. I do feel a sense of the pressure of time – but hey – haven't quite hit 50.5 yet, so I still have time for that bestseller, lol.

  3. I agree…I think I'm a much better writer now than I was in my twenties. Mostly because I was really idealistic then. 🙂

    And thank you ever so much for the research assistance! You're the best!

  4. i read that article yesterday and i also paused at that sentence. what does age matter? a good story is a good story is a good story. it doesn't matter if it's your first, last, or somewhere in the middle just as it doesn't matter if you're 19 or 91.

    it seems like the media likes to make a big deal of writers (or really, anyone who's breaking out) who are in the extremes. a really young writer! a really old actress! a writer with 57 titles to their name! but like i said, as long as you give me a good story, i don't care what stage of life you're in/at/have reached.

  5. The Man says this stuff to me all the time. He reminds me constantly that writers are well into their 50s before they "hit it". I guess I always knew that but it's a nice reminder. It means there's hope for me yet. 😉

  6. I think our culture is simply obsessed with aging, or not aging however you want to look at it. As I've gotten older, and that is not to say that I'm all that old, I've found that what life seemed to be at 16 is different from what it was at 18 and so on. But what I'm trying to say is it doesn't matter how old you are just as long as you pursue your dreams.

  7. Isn't it nice to know that getting older brings us something good, Keena?

    That's right, Kerry – and you can be on the high side of the average, too!

    The idealism is a huge factor, Laura. I read some of that stuff and cringe at the shiny.

    All good points, Abby – and I'm glad I'm not the only one who tripped over that!

    LMAO, Linda! AVERAGE – there's got to be people to balance out the 20-somethings!

    Of course there is, Michelle – listen to the man!

    Chudney, you are so right. As usual!

  8. I felt a bit of a nasty taste in my mouth at an article that talked about 20-something authors at the peak of their career. This encapsulates what was bothering me, I think.

    And I've got a few years left before hitting that bestseller deadline, hurray! 😉

  9. Yeah, I think a lot of the commenters are right on, that people are fascinated by accomplishments by young people. But can you imagine peaking in your 20s? Better have a back-up plan!

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