How old must you be to write a novel?

Just read a post by John Scalzi on why it seems that so few novelists are published in their twenties.  Or are “kinda old,” as he puts it.  Ahem.  Must be a young punk writing.

As an old and creaky scrivener who refuses to yell at kids to get off the lawn, but who does think the new Star Trek flick is unduly optimistic about the deep space survival odds of entire starship crews not old enough to shave anywhere on their bodies, I had to grumble a reply:

Here’s an interesting stat I found in the professional psychology literature: not only does it take a long time to get a novel published (on average, a published novelist is older than other kinds of artists), but there is also a second long time period between published novelists’ first publications and their “great works.” The researchers found that when you look at major novelists, there was, on average, a ten year period of working and publishing between their first published novel and the novels that lasted, that made them famous (if not necessarily rich).

While I love your post, it is interesting how the main reason for novelists being older doesn’t get a mention: people have more to write about as they get older.  Sure there are exceptions, young writers, six year olds who can do a novel and get it published. And I wouldn’t put that down — occasionally, really great novels do get written by very young writers. But as an old guy with four or five practice novels under my belt and now, finally, with a really great agent selling my first sellable one, my sense is that the cold, hard realities of human psychological development count for a lot in the novel business.

Life experience is better represented in novels than in probably any other art form because novels, like life, can be complex and multi-layered. The problems in life can be incredibly daunting, crushing, mind-twisting. The twenties you think you are understanding as you live through them aren’t real — when you’re forty, you’ll realize how confused you were; when you’re sixty, you’ll realize how wrong you were in your forties. Sorry, but that’s how it is for everybody.

It takes a novel to lay out such complexity, and it takes a person who has been through them to be able to write it “true.” (Though there is no one under 40 who will believe a word of this blathering.)

Depends on what we mean by a “novel,” too, of course. Possibly, the word should be retired.


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Filed under Fiction, Writing profession

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