Every couple of months, the conversation goes around writing circles about age of publication. There seems to be a certain stigma, currently, that a lot of successful writers make their debuts by their early 30s. If you haven’t, the thinking goes, you’ll never make it. I think this round of writer angst was kicked off by Min Jin Lee’s excellent post about her own writer’s journey. That conversation requires the occasional bit of reassurance from more successful writers to newer ones.
A reminder that Old Man’s War, my debut novel, came out when I was 35. You don’t have to be young to be a debut novelist. https://t.co/sPVMxCYXyw
— John Scalzi (@scalzi) 13 January 2017
Of course, that might be of limited use if you’re older than 35 and still unpublished, and indeed Scalzi’s own journey (second novel bought at age 33) isn’t that typical. Still, Scalzi’s points about the average age of publishing stand. Writing books is hard. Getting published is harder. Yes, some writers do it early (and we laud and idealize those who do) but many, many well-known writers have debuted after 35.
Still, that brings me to my own thoughts. In my early 30s with several books written (but so far unbought), I’ve had the looming feeling for some time that I’ve missed a window of opportunity. Why? Well, I’ve been writing since my teens (though I didn’t get serious about it until just a few years ago). In that time, I’ve completed a fair amount of education, started a career and married a wonderful companion and partner, which doesn’t seem like a bad list of accomplishments. And yet, when I think about how much of that time has been outright wasted (and a lot of it was) then I can’t help but feel like I should have accomplished more.
Because, you see, I expect being a parent to KRH (and any future siblings he may have) to take a lot of time. I also expect to have to work more over the coming decades to meet my family’s financial goals. In other words, the time I should have been writing harder, producing more content, honing my skills further… was years ago. And I was, but maybe I didn’t do it enough? Maybe I should have gotten serious earlier? I wish I had produced more.
Giving yourself a hard time over the past is an emotional trap that it’s easy to fall into. Yes, you didn’t meet your goals. At the same time, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change that failure. All you can do is try and learn from it and do better. That’s a mindset I try to embrace, admittedly not always successfully. So maybe, yes, I did fail to make the most of a window of time over the last 10 years. But it’s worth noting that unless I became the next J.K. Rowling, I’m likely to look back on my accomplishments and feel like they weren’t enough. Still, I did accomplish a lot in that time. I learned how to work steadily and regularly, how to to finish my projects and a lot about editing. I built habits and learned how to work more efficiently and effectively. And hey I wrote some books I think are pretty good, even if they’re not on bookshelves. And I’ll keep writing until they make it there.