On Monday, SFF author Kate Elliott composed a series of tweets about age and whether not there is a “right” time to begin one’s writing career. I found them very insightful and affirming to my own writing career. Check out this Storify of those tweets!
TLDR (and shame on you if you can’t be bothered to read like twelve tweets): There isn’t “right” or “best” time to start a writing career.
Like I said, those tweets spoke to me. I didn’t start writing my first manuscript until I was like 27 or 28. And it took three years to finish. And it was a hot fricking 180,000 word mess when it was done. Then I edited for another year more. Four years for one book that I didn’t decide to put on the shelf until I was on the wrong side of 30. It happens, right?
Now that I’m coming up on 35, I look back on the time I spent on that first book and the choice not to start it earlier with some regret. Some regret, but some introspection. Who knows what would have happened if I wrote that first book when I was 22 and then queried it as I had when I was 32. Would have been able to handle the deluge of rejection without an extra decade of real world experience? Would I have tucked away my Mac with that manuscript in it, never to be seen again? Maybe, maybe not.
Fellow Scribe Kristin McFarland and I talked about this a bit on the last episode of our podcast. You can’t look back at with regret for maybe starting “too late” or taking “too long” with your journey down the publishing path. That first book, or any other successive books, wouldn’t be the same if they were written at a different point in your life. You shouldn’t dwell on time spent, but look ahead and maximize that time you have left.
If you want a good example of how there’s no “right” time – just look at the slate of Nebula nominations just announced and the Hugo nominations from last year. There is a huge breadth of writers both in terms of age, but also what point they are in their careers. Sometimes you get an award nomination on your first book, sometimes on your tenth. Sometimes it’s a short story when you’re 23, sometimes it’s a novel when you’re 53.
All of that said, I don’t think everyone should be completely flippant about the time factor in trying to build a writing career. You need to make the time. You need to do the work. And that’s hard sometimes. We all have lives, we all have other interests and commitments that pull us in the other directions from our writing. Every damn day. Sometimes we have to let them, for our own self care. But we also need to sit down and put those words in the computer and make those books. Not everyone can work at the same pace or with the same schedule, and that’s okay too.
It hurts me to contemplate about all the writers out there who think they might be too young or too old to break into publishing because of preconceived notions about the “right” way or “best” time to do it. Self rejection based on preconceptions is a very real and very unfortunate part of being a writer. We’ve all experienced and not everyone is able to overcome it. But I’m so happy to see authors who have “made it” speak about these issues. I think there’s a lot of fear in authors just starting out, and many think there are already insurmountable barriers erected by time.
There is no right time and your time is whatever you make of it.