May 3, 2006
There are young singers, young actors, young musicians, young math geniuses and young chess players. And yet there are almost no young authors. Why is that? Why does writing require experience and wisdom? Is it that adults devalue the voices of kids and teens? Is it that publishers are prejudice? Or is it due to the failure of the parents and schools to cultivate creativity? Is it because there is little glory in being a published author? There is more glory in being awful for three minutes on American Idol than there is in writing for 30 years! Authors are not pop stars and not often idolized. Even popular authors don’t usually find themselves stalked the paparazzi.
Why bring this up? Well, I finished reading Jenn Crowell’s first novel “Necessary Madness” again. I read it when it first came out in 1997, but I was too jealous to enjoy it. I wanted to know why I couldn’t be published at 18 years old. Recently I bought a copy of it from the thrift store for $1. In re-reading it the question comes up again. Why couldn’t I have been published at 18?
Of course even those who publish young aren’t guaranteed a lucrative career and a place in anthologies for years to come. None of the teen authors that I am aware of have been hailed as the next Pulitzer Prize winning author or as literary greats. Crowell and Atwater-Rhodes have carved a niche for themselves, but have not yet reached that high standard label of Literature. So publishing young doesn’t seem to mean much in the grand scheme of the book world. Not that it isn’t a great accomplishment, it is, but it is just that age doesn’t seem to be a gauge in the greatness of writing.
All of the great classics I am aware of were penned by authors in the 20s at least. Some authors were just 20, while others were closer to 30. A handful didn’t pick up a pen until retirement. The rest fall somewhere in between. Some authors attended college, but some had little formal education. There doesn’t seem to be a format to follow in order to write the Great American Novel. For every correlation or commonality, you are bound to find an exception. Many great authors were alcoholic or manic-depressive-or both—but not all of them certainly. Many lived dull and uneventful lives.
I try to figure out if I am on the right track with my writing by looking to others, but it hardly makes anything clear. I measure myself against Crowell or Atwater-Rhodes and I come up short. If I measure myself against Anais Nin I am doing well. J.K. Rowling is probably the closest marker I have. I believe she was 32 when Harry Potter was published. And yet she could still prove to be a wrong marker for me. Getting published is tough enough, but generating the kind of sales that Harry Potter did is a billion to one shot. I am more likely to win the lottery or get struck by lightening than I am to be a famous author. It is a bit of a gamble to say the least. The odds are against me.
The only two things that lure me onward and keep me working are 1) faith and 2) the knowledge that novels of pure crap somehow get published. Someone somewhere has to think my stuff is good enough to print. I may not be the next Woolf, Plath or even Nin, but I have enough confidence in my work to see that it has some value. Some people may think me arrogant for saying so, but I feel that I do have some talent. Unfortunately talent isn’t enough. It requires patience, persistence and perhaps a bit of luck or fate.