Ageism and the Writer (Why I’m Afraid of 30)

Martha Southgate has posted a great article over at The Millions about the literary/publishing community’s relative ageist (my term, not hers) focus on young writers – awards for writers under 35, the New Yorker’s “25 Under 40,” etc.

I’m no old man. I’m on the quick slide to 30, the age at which, I’ve kind of decided, things change. Since I started taking my own writing seriously – I was about 26 – I was already aware of many authors who were my age or younger when they published their first, second, or later books. Ben Percy, for example, published The Language of Elk at 26 and had been published in The Paris Review and had won a Pushcart Prize. 26! Now, at 32, he has two more books – a novel and a short story collection – and a third out this fall. Tea Obreht published The Tiger’s Wife to superstar-making acclaim at only 25. Okay, so I started late and I’m not destined to become some hot new star of the literary world or anything, but my point is that – duh – age starts to catch up with a man.

Martha is certainly correct that many writers really hit their strides in the middle or late into their careers. Cormac McCarthy won the Pulitzer at 74. But. This age thing is certainly shadowing me, taunting me. If there’s potential to be realized, it’s better to find it now rather than later.

This is not all to say that I can’t write after I turn 30, that I can’t produce better stuff as I get older, but, certainly, I’m not getting any younger…


5 thoughts on “Ageism and the Writer (Why I’m Afraid of 30)

  1. I was combing through various blogs earlier today and read this entry. I immediately thought of a picture that a friend posted on Facebook. It has a quote, written by someone I don’t know, that inspired me to not care about how little I feel in the world of writing and literature. I’m new to this attempt at blogging, and I will probably be terrible at it for a long long time. But that’s okay. It’s a journey, and a journey I’m willing to take. The quote is long and is intended for those in the dance, fashion, and visual arts world, so forgive me, but it relates quite interestingly to your thoughts…

    “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is a gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer, and your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know, who do interesting and creative work, went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

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