What’s the best age to write a novel?
When I announced to my parents at the grand old age of 25 that I was going to write a novel, my mother’s initial reaction was, “Why? Surely that’s something you do when you’re older and have lived more.”
I was baffled by this perspective and frankly a little insulted. But it appears she wasn’t alone in this view.
Joanna Trollope, prolific romance writer, once said:
“It’s a rather unkind thing to have to say, and I don’t mean it unkindly, but I always say to people you will write much better fiction after the age of 35 than before. Merely because life will have knocked you about a bit by then.”
Now, weeks away from turning 29, I hope I can claim to be a little wiser and I can see where my mother and Joanna Trollope were coming from.
And I find myself wondering if maybe they have a point. After all, the average age of a debut novelist is 36 years old. And the average age of Pulitzer prize winners is 48.8.
Obviously there are exceptions to this rule. Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations at 26, Jack London 27 when Call of the Wild was published.
But then is that a fair comparison? Times were harder back then and I imagine people grew up a lot faster than now. In some ways I think we grow up too soon and yet emotionally I can’t help but feel as if modern generations are emotionally far behind our ancestors who would have had to face the harsh realities of life very early on.
How can I write about human nature when, touch wood, I’m only a third of the way through my life and have barely scratched the surface of what life has to offer?
Joanne Trollope adds:
“I think in order to write good fiction, I think you need to have got a lot of living under your belt. And that includes the pain as well as the joy.”
How do you define “a lot of living”? Isn’t that rather a subjective measurement to make?
Still, I have to wonder — have I lived enough? Who am I to write about suffering, about loss, about great hardship? There’s so much of life I have yet to experience. I haven’t known the loss of a parent, the agony and joys of having children, the intricacies of married life. Who am I then to write about these things?
Actually, who am I not to?
I’ve known my fair share of suffering. I known fear. I know depression, I’ve known anxiety. I’ve fallen in love. I’ve fallen out of love. I’ve experienced ecstatic highs and dismal lows. I’ve known disappointment. I’ve known frustration, anger, hate, jealousy, rage.
These are all human emotions and no age bracket has a monopoly on them. I’d say I’m more than qualified to write about all that.
Age and wisdom aren’t always mutually exclusive. And some people squeeze more living into in 30 years than others do in 80.
So maybe it’s time to ignore the naysayers. (While at the same time respecting there may be a grain of truth to what they say!)
There’ll always be someone who says you’re too young, too old, too poor, too busy, too stupid, too naive, too uneducated. If we listened to them, we’d never start anything.
So all I have to say to them is…