So it’s 4am and I’ve just finished recording a podcast for Uprising Review with my co-host Stephen Willis. Today’s topic was on age and writing. We explored a number of aspects relating to the age of the writer and the time in the writer’s life when he decided to make the move and write that first novel.
And we usually talk about novels, not non-fiction.
The example Stephen gave was that of Christopher Paolini who wrote Eragon at around sixteen years old. The kid managed to catch lightning in a bottle. He wasn’t doing anything particularly revolutionary with it, but it captured the imagination. And this got me wondering, is there a right age to start writing certain types of fiction?
This is a function of something we talk a lot about on the Uprising Review podcast: how do you know when you’re ready to start writing? How do you know when you’ve done enough research? This is also a common problem among graduate students putting off the master’s thesis or dissertation.
“Just one more book then I’ll be ready to write, sir I promise!”
-every grad student ever
In truth, you don’t really need age to write. You need maturity and perspective. Those two things are often associated with age, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that because someone is a little older that they’d be the better writer. It sucks but it’s true. I think there is a perfect age to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I think the same of Le Morte Darthur and Robin Hood and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. There is a part of your life where those books are most effective. I pity people who discover after about age 30 that they want to be writers. You can’t really gather the literary knowledge you need after adolescence. And you really won’t have the time either.
In truth, age matters because most people are not mature enough to see the perspective between themselves and the topic they are writing about. If you’re a former Marine and you want to write about Iraq circa 2003-2004, you probably lack the distance to do it. In fact I know plenty of Vietnam era vets who have tried to write their experiences in Vietnam forty years later and fail. It’s because they can’t gain perspective.
Perspective is a dangerous thing. The further we get from the past the hazier it becomes, and the more like an impressionist painting it become. From a distance you see something that makes you think you understand it – get a little closer however and it’s blobs of paint without much order.
So the author must, in my opinion, be old enough to have some perspective on the time or culture he or she is writing about. Failure to do so will leave you at best looking foolish and at worst so discouraged you give up writing forever. And that would be a true shame.