In my Senior Practicum class this week, we’ve been talking about “Life After ASFA,” particularly how ASFA-CW students can keep up the creative momentum once they graduate and go off to college, etc. One of the things we discussed was how a lot of the “writing life” happens when you’re not actually typing: when you’re reading, thinking, living, traveling, eating, loving, learning, failing, succeeding, striving, lounging, even sleeping. Etc. Yes, writing takes discipline, and there’s merit in getting words on the page. But it’s more than that, too, much more, in fact. It takes time, effort, and energy for a set of sustainable creative preoccupations to develop.
Another related thing we considered was a list of “successful” writers — prominent writers who’ve garnered awards for their writing and/or who have published bestsellers. Now, Mark Twain (by way, probably, of Benjamin Disraeli) is supposed to have said, “There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics,” but, for what it’s worth, I crunched some numbers and discovered that the average age of all of these writers when they published their first books was 31 and some change. That was across the board, too — poets, fiction writers, wealthy celebrity writers, critically acclaimed writers, bestselling writers, teaching writers, well-educated writers, drop-out writers. Didn’t matter. The average age at first book publication was about 31.
Most were older or younger, of course; that’s how averages work. And, no, I can’t vouch for the statistical validity of the sample. I’m not a math guy. I’m just a poet who writes novels and teaches writing workshops. The list does offer some interesting food for thought, though. Its general message is that writing (and, in particular, publishing) is a marathon, not a sprint, especially if you’re still in high school or college and 31 years of age seems like an eternity from where you are right now. It’s an important and encouraging message for young writers to hear. They have time. Really we all do, even those of us who aren’t “young writers” anymore. (O, to be 31 again!) The “writing life” is just that: a life. There’s no rush.