So They Started Young — So What? (A Rant About Authors)


L. B. Gale has an interesting blog post entitled “Fantasy Writers:  What We’re Up Against,” in which s/he profiles George R. R. Martin to give fantasy writers an impression of the writing life of one of the greats.  We learn, for example, that he won his first award when he was 17 and was nominated for a Hugo at 25, with his first novel published when he was 29, and so on.  Martin isn’t the only SF/F writer who started getting recognized when he was young, I’m sure, but there is something about looking at age as some kind of impressive element that bothers me.

What exactly is impressive about getting published at a young age, let alone winning awards at said age?  Writing isn’t like business, where making millions at a young age might be quite impressive indeed.  I’m sure a lot of people are envious of Mark Zuckerberg, who became a
billionaire before 30.  Why?  Because most people don’t make it in the business world when they are young.  To be fair, most people don’t become billionaires either, but the point still stands.
But writing can’t be held to the same standard.  Authors make it big when they are young, middle-aged, or damned old.  Kenneth Grahame didn’t publish The Wind in the Willows until his 50s.  Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) at 66.  Anthony Burgess’s first novel at 39.  Mary Midgley at 56.  Joseph Conrad at 37.  Raymond Chandler at 43.  Richard Adams at about 52.  And on and on and on.  (There are bound to be plenty of SF/F examples too, but I didn’t want to spend an hour searching to find out.)
But their ages don’t matter.  We’re not talking about an 8-year-old writing a great science fiction novel, or a 115-year-old doing the same.  We’re talking about writers who came into prominence at various points in the typical span of a human life.  What matters isn’t that they wrote a great book at 17 or 52.  It’s that they wrote a great book.  What matters isn’t that they won an award at 17 or 52.  It’s that they won an award.  The age is irrelevant (or it should be).  We needn’t revere authors for being brilliant at a young age; let’s revere them for being brilliant.

What say you all?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

6 thoughts on “So They Started Young — So What? (A Rant About Authors)

  1. I've been struggling with this since I set out on my writing journey two years ago. I'm 37, and I guess you could describe my SFF writing career as "dabbling in the indies" at this point. I look at my peers and people I respect (for example NK Jemisin and Cat Valente) and they're 5 to 10 years younger than me. It makes me feel like I'm way behind, and I still have my "million words of crap" to come, that a full time writing career (if such a thing exists any more) is possibly still 20 years off. It can be a little disheartening to be juggling a day job when you know EXACTLY what you want to be doing, and have it such a long way off when you're struggling with internalized concepts of age and success in society.

  2. Absolutely. I think the age thing makes us forget that we all come from different backgrounds. There are folks who start out wealthy, folks who start out poor, folks who make it big with their first book, and folks who don't. It's a crazy world.

  3. Young? Sure. Successful? If you mean having a handful of semi-decent stories published in two-bit mags which will never be seen on the awards circuit, then, yeah, you're real successful.

    Of course, I'm totally being a turd 😛

  4. I remember when I read the story GRRM wrote in high school and I realized that it wasn't very good. Then there's the stuff he wrote in college, and now I'm writing in college. This probably means that when I turn 60, I will be measuring myself against ASOIAF. I will also be 60. Exciting times.

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