The closer I get to turning fifty, the more age obsessed I find myself, including with my own writing progress. I’m noticing how often I read stuff written by much younger people. Twenty- and thirty-somethings are publishing all over the place, in confident voices that make them sound worldly, wise, and fearless. How did they acquire so much swagger, so much knowledge, while I feel perpetually timid and inadequate?
It’s probably not true that everyone publishing anything is younger than me, but sometimes it seems that way, just as it seems that every writer worth a damn is flitting off to residencies or conferences. Either they’re young enough to not yet have many commitments other than to themselves and their work, or they’re old enough that their downsized empty nests and ample retirement income allow them great freedom. I try to push away the nagging worry that they’re more invested in their writing than I am in mine.
Authors I read who are close to my age are well-established. It’s rare to discover fellow middle-aged beginners, though I realize they’re out there. Curious, I googled and found a group over in the UK called The Prime Writers, all of whom published their first book when they were over forty. I’m heartened knowing they exist and that they’ve found each other.
When we hear the word “emerging” though, we picture someone youthful, don’t we? And when we see youthful writers, we accept their beginner status without criticism. On sight, a middle-aged person is expected to have achieved something more, just as my son, who has always looked older than his actual age, has been expected to have already reached certain milestones before people who meet him understand how young he really is. I may look aged, but in terms of my writing, I have a long way to go.
I often think of myself as a beginner, but am I being fair? I signed up for my very first creative writing class back in 2000. That was seventeen years ago. Four years ago, I earned my MA. I’ve managed to publish a handful of pieces. When I’m at my lowest, I chide myself for not being dedicated enough, but in reality, I’ve stubbornly stuck with this writing thing for nearly two decades, during which time I’ve also been doing a good deal of living life. Hmm. How about that?
A few weeks ago, I attended a local, one day writing conference and realized that I wasn’t as much of a beginner as a good number of the other attendees. It’s probably fair to say that I’m at some sort of middle place in this writing journey. I’ve learned some things and developed some skills, and I’m aware that I have more to learn and develop. I can stop thinking of myself as a beginner, despite not yet having published a book of my own. I’m relieved by this realization.
Still, I marvel at the confidence of those younger authors I read. How did they get to where they wanted to go so fast? Some days, I feel as if I’m stuck in a traffic circle, unsure of which exit to choose, which road will lead to a place where I’ll be happy to settle in. Perhaps it’s because I’m older, because I want to avoid a costly detour, that I hesitate to push forward too quickly. Perhaps my life experience is a handicap. I’ve lost all faith in five year plans. I know that life will toss me this way and that, so what use is a firm goal anyway?
More and more I think I’m doing this less as a means to an end than as a way to become more myself. Perhaps that mindset is the guide that will point me to the right road. It’s true, I’m envious of those younger writers so sure of their own voices. I wish I had been so sure at their age. I’d like to be so sure just once, if only for a moment.
I saw a piece yesterday in which a writer lamented her own lack of patience with the process of learning and practicing writing, and I think I’ve had the same kind of impatience. So I’ve been trying to breathe more, to relax and to allow my writing to wander wherever it wants to go. I’ve been reminding myself that, for me, writing isn’t so much a career choice as it is a lifestyle. I’ve always written and I will continue to write, regardless of any outcome. It’s just what I do.
I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #11 of 52.