"The real rare bird is the writer who debuts after 40."
May 22, 2015 7:56 AM   Subscribe

In writing class after writing class, I see time and again how the question of talent haunts the young, who come to class hoping to make it into that anointed group—those who publish to glory young. [But] the question of age haunts my older students more than talent.

Alexander Chee in Lithub, via The Toast.
posted by postcommunism (39 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for this; I needed to read it today.
posted by nubs at 8:05 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have been writing a lot about the subject of age and writing in my blog, although most of it has been regarding the age when the author is seeing the most success. The bottom line is that writing respects age.

I have been preparing a post regarding age at the time of debut (but it probably won't be up until next week). There have been a lot of writers who begin late in some sense of the word. Raymond Chandler published his first novel in his fifties.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:12 AM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Q:Did you start writing late?
A: No, I started right on time.
posted by ian1977 at 8:14 AM on May 22, 2015 [9 favorites]

Zenna Henderson comes to mind
posted by AGameOfMoans at 8:20 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

even though we all claim to read for wisdom and insist MFA students are too young to be studying writing

Not so much the MFA, but when I see that there are undergraduate creative writing degrees, my reaction is "what could these kids possibly have to write about?!?!" But then I still get wooed by the shiny new book from the shiny young new author.
posted by GrapeApiary at 8:20 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's writing, and then there's recognition, and then there's "publish[ing] to glory." The third, to me, is a freak thing, like being a supermodel. Not that a lot of those books aren't very, very good. I love the novels that have come out by people like Hannah Kent and Téa Obreht. Their books have an amazing energy and confidence. (Though Kent's book went through a comparatively long journey, starting as poetry.)

But even the second item, getting published and recognized, is almost a freak thing, at least for novels. One of my favorite "late bloomer" stories is that of Annie Proulx. Born in 1935, she wrote incessantly but apparently decided to write a novel quite late and published Postcards in 1992. You can see the depth of background in that book-- besides being a journalist, she has most of a PhD in history-- but it also has some of the exuberance of more usual, earlier debuts.

A lot of crime fiction is written by older people: doctors, journalists, academics. I have this feeling that's even truer today, with the increase of boutique publishing ventures and reduced expectations that writing fiction will make you a fortune. Of course, that's by definition not the kind of publishing fantasy most non-writers have.
posted by BibiRose at 8:28 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

This isn't just writing, but a whole host of things, possibly most famously mathematics. There are just so many people, and so few slots for famous people, that essentially we wait for the endless churn of conditions (genetics + environment) to spit Athena from the head of Zeus fully formed, and the bit in there about "conceptual" vs "experimental" workers supports this. I think conceptual workers have a vastly better chance at getting recognized, for various reasons including a cultural predilection for youth worship that the article talks about but doesn't really name as such, and possibly are just more common than experimental ones. I laugh when people talk to me about "hard work," in almost any rarefied field (like Olympic-level athletics), because sure those people put in a ton of hours, but they were born with the predilection to do so along with the ability to do so, the peculiar environmental conditions that allowed their talent to be recognized and allowed to flourish. Writing, you may say, doesn't require as exact an environment as professional skiing, but there are certainly conditions that encourage it (like not having to work for money). As for the people who achieve their positions without those conditions? Why, I say that shows they were even more born to it. Free will? Bah.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:29 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Two people who come to mind:

Nell Zink
Stanley Crawford
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:31 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a great message for not just writing but other fields. I'm in my mid-forties and when I look back at all the careers and hobbies I've tried and discarded, my overriding thought is there's so much time. It really just comes down to "Is this a good time to devote myself completely to this thing, regardless of the financial outcome, the effects on relationships, and the general uncertainty about where it might lead?" For many people including myself, getting older means trying to live a more balanced and financially secure life. They let go of making it big in the arts, or being top dog at some other pursuit, and replace that with a sustainable existence that involves enjoying friends and family, being a provider, even *gasp* clocking in and out. So it's true that being 100% committed to a dream gets harder, especially if you have to have a different full-time job, but that is balanced by being able to use your increased maturity and life experience to make and do things that are deeper and more compelling. I am not a writer except for a few poems, but life experience has got to key to being a good writer. Someone who's 40 is bound to have more to say than they did at 20, unless they have just turned off their spirit and become an automaton in the interim.
posted by freecellwizard at 8:34 AM on May 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

No, I started right on time.

This, a million times. I'm in the midst of discovering new perspectives and passions, and reinventing myself in some fundamental ways at age 42, and it is wonderfully exhilarating. I really try not to judge myself for not "getting started" on this sooner, or for not having the courage to live into my more rebellious ideas and opinions before now, because I wasn't ready to until now.

I am a process, and will continue to occur in my way, at my pace, as I need to, until the process that is me stops. What is really nice about change and trying new things and having new aspirations at this age, is that I'm much more free from the desires of ego: I have no urge to Make My Mark or Achieve Prestigious Success like I did when younger (and as so many young creatives tend to). Now, I just want to do good work and enjoy doing it. (How it's all received is really not up to me, so I'm not going to worry about it too much.)
posted by LooseFilter at 8:34 AM on May 22, 2015 [12 favorites]

I'm 43 and a failure so my GODDAMN KID HAD BETTER MAKE IT.
posted by colie at 8:41 AM on May 22, 2015 [12 favorites]

Starting anything, especially anything creative, later in life, is so, so, so very much harder. Nobody warns about the creative exhaustion that can set in. Oh, np, they just keep pointing at that a*****e Grandma Moses and her stupid beautiful, amazing paintings.

If I had a #$@&ing nickel for every #$@&ing time some #$@&er (including my own #$@& mother) tried to make me feel better about missed creative opportunities when I was younger with, "But look at Grandma Moses!" I'd have enough money to buy every lovely #$@&ing Grandma #$@&ing Moses painting and every #$@&ing word that's ever been written about Grandma #$@&ing Moses and lock it up in a lead vault somewhere under the Great Salt Flats.

Well, just until everybody calmed the #$@& down and realized that not everybody can be a #$@&ing outlier and it's offensive and the opposite of helpful to essentially say, "Give up on honing your craft while you're young enough to benefit from it, because there's a chance in a million you could be a #$@&ing outlier, too!"

N.B. I'm sure Grandma #$@&ing Moses was a very nice lady and not actually an a*****e at all. Well-meaning a*****es have posthumously drafted her ghost into their ranks.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:44 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

An aside re prodigies w/ careers too short: Gawker (via Reddit) has an interesting piece on David Wallace's first published (mass-market) story.
posted by Flashman at 8:45 AM on May 22, 2015

A creative person is, by definition, abnormal. They are seeing and depicting the world in a way that is n degrees off of the way most everyone else does, else they'd be simply parroting what has come before them. This is not to insinuate that "normals" aren't capable of being creative or vice versa, but that being creative on a regular basis requires a bit of an unusual mindset. Sometimes the well runs dry after being tapped a few times, and sometimes one's experiences and teachings didn't leave any water in it in the first place.

This is why I can point to many writers, directors, musicians, etc. who burned bright for a while and then fizzled into derivative works and mediocrity. They had sparks of inspiration and creativity but it is unusual to CONTINUE to keep having equally impressive epiphanies over time.

To write, to paint, to sing, to perform generally require education, training and/or practice as well as innate talent and ideas. Thus it is rare to find an older someone who has a shining star waiting to burst out who has (a) not had that talent discovered and explored at a younger age or (b) had decades of everyday humdrum life crush creativity under its thumb.
posted by delfin at 8:51 AM on May 22, 2015

I had my first novel published when I was 36; I won an award for "Best New Writer" when I was 37; the year I got that "new writer" award I had been writing professionally for 17 years. I tell people, truthfully, that I needed every one of those 17 years to pick up that particular award.

I also tell people that if I had had the same sort of success at 25 that I had at 36, when my first novel came out and did well, that I almost certainly would have become a complete, raging asshole, because -- remembering who I was at 25 -- I would have assumed that the success I had was simply the natural order of things and an inevitability of my "talent" rather than my talent and (substantially) every other thing that goes into the pot in becoming a writer, including the luck of being in the right place at the right time with the right book. I may or may not be an asshole, but if I am it's for other reasons than believing my career was something akin to manifest destiny.

I don't particularly worry about whether the future decides I'm an essential writer or a major figure in my field or whatever; by the time that's decided I will be long dead. What I do worry about is simply writing books, which say what I want to say, and which still have a reasonably good chance of selling to humans buying books today. The one advantage of having "started" writing in my mid-thirties is that it allowed me lots of time to develop as a human, and to understand more about the nature of the world, professionally and personally, so that I felt equipped to deal with both success and failure when they've happened. If you had told me at 25 that this would be important, I would have stared at you blankly.
posted by jscalzi at 9:06 AM on May 22, 2015 [43 favorites]

Recent and related: Robin Black, "What's So Great About Young Writers?" (NYT)
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:25 AM on May 22, 2015

I'm not a writer and probably never will be but even if I'd had that talent at 25, I would have had absolutely nothing interesting to say at that stage of my life.
posted by octothorpe at 9:35 AM on May 22, 2015

First successes in your 40s or 50s are almost always a factor of starting out late; there's basically nobody who fails at something for ten or twenty years and then miraculously succeeds -- learning curves and luck-out percentages are not that harsh.

Given that, fiction writing is actually friendly to older first successes simply because writing is something you can start later in life, and when you do start later actually bring some experience (in reading, and in life) that compensates for not having the sheer energy and iconoclasm of someone younger. It's basically impossible to start many other careers in your 40s or 50s.
posted by MattD at 9:50 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I write the kind of stories and books my younger self did not have the grit or brilliance to come up with to save her life (sorry, younger self, that's the truth; deal with it).

Younger self needed experience to develop into me today; so to me, the best writers are just babies at 40.

And if anyone asks about age, I tell them the truth: I gave away my birthdays to some greedy little boy who wanted more presents; so while age means nothing to me, May Tenth became a character in one of my other stories.

Whoever came up with the idea of marking age was a conniving moron: go measure the strength of a person's character, not how many sunrises they had the privilege of seeing.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:59 AM on May 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think it's useful most of the time to forget that you even have an age. Just go.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:00 AM on May 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

I fail to see how reading something written by a 20 year old can be much use to a 50 year old. They inhabit different non-parallel universes. Both, young an old, however, have been known to write well. It's not so much what you have to say, but how you say it. I suspect that the young write deductively, while the old write inductively. It would seem that, like most things in life, the fat part of the bell curve would produce the best writer. They are young enough to remember the glories of youth, and old enough to see that it wasn't that glorious.

It would be interesting to see some statistical work regarding the demographics of talented writers.

In conclusion, here are some random thoughts on writing:

"Only a block-head writes for any reason but to make money."
--Samuel Johnson

"I love deadlines and the sound they make when they go whooshing by."
--Douglas Adams

"Writing success is 10% inspiration and 90% vodka (that way, even if you are unsuccessful, you will be too drunk to care)."
posted by rankfreudlite at 10:21 AM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

In a related matter, Herman Wouk is still, still alive (first novel, 1941; his book The Caine Mutiny was a NYT bestseller for 122 weeks starting in 1951). He'll be celebrating his centenary in August.
His most recent novel came out in 2012. According to his website, he attended the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival earlier this year.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:55 AM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Related link: Six novelists who didn't publish until they were 40

This topic of age and being able to succeed at something that might bring fame is popping up in a lot of different places lately. I even saw a Thrasher article the other day that was talking about older skaters and how being 40 doesn't mean you have to stop skating. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that Baby Boomers and Gen X - people who grew up really valuing the pursuit of one's "dreams," which are usually creative or artistic ones - are aging and trying to figure out why it didn't work out for them and if there's still a chance. Of course there's still a chance. But it's a slim one and it always will be whether you're precocious, someone who peaks at middle age, or a late bloomer. Being old does not preclude you from possibly realizing your dream nor does it decrease or increase your chances. You're either one among the very few who has the talent to succeed later in life or you're not. But there's no way of determining that beforehand. You just have to try.

Most of this stuff is written for the sake of making people feel better about themselves, though it's true that in our culture we're obsessed with youthful genius. Probably simply because young people with talent are easier on the eyes and easier to attach romantic notions to. Youthful genius is also a different kind. It's energetic and brilliant and attracts people to itself.
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:13 AM on May 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

Correction: Wouk's centennial is May 27th. In other words, prepare for Wouk-mania. He plans to release a book.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:36 AM on May 22, 2015

Well, I didn't start blogging until I was over 40 (blogging didn't exist until I was over 40) and look how successful I've been... not. But it did open some doors into writing about pop culture, since I had first-hand memories about what are now 'old timey' things, like the Beatles, Peanuts, original Star Trek and Bugs Bunny. (But when they started adding Star Wars and Devo to the 'old timey' things, THEN I started feeling old) And I did get some writing published before I was 30, mostly for The People's Almanac where I ended up doing essays on the sex lives of historical figures (no, I'm NOT old enough to have known Robert Burns personally).

Still, when I was 10 years old, I came up with what I considered a killer idea for a cartoon series that I wrote up and sent to Hanna Barbera Productions, who responded my sending me an autographed picture of Yogi Bear. (Apparently I hadn't made clear enough in my proposal that I KNEW these cartoon characters were fictional). And I came up with an idea for the Great American Science Fiction Novel in 1978... a concept (The Time Travel Agent) that has since been done dozens of times, several better than I could've.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:56 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I started writing out of boredom, not even thinking about getting paid for it, and sold my first magazine article at age 33. Started publishing a small magazine at age 34. Had my first book published at age 41, sold my second book last year at age 68.
posted by Repack Rider at 12:50 PM on May 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think conceptual workers have a vastly better chance at getting recognized, for various reasons including a cultural predilection for youth worship that the article talks about but doesn't really name as such, and possibly are just more common than experimental ones.

I don't know, people always like to talk about creative work as the product of visionaries "having plans in their mind that arrived fully formed that they then executed" but listening to artists actually describe how they work I'd say while true visionaries exist that popular notion of creativity is overrated and experimentalists are actually far more common. For a number of reasons it may be easier to gain recognition by working around a particular concept, carving out a niche, but that doesn't mean the central idea actually came to you fully formed, only that you knew you knew it was a good one when you saw it. From an audience perspective I'm not sure concept is really distinguishable from process.
posted by atoxyl at 12:58 PM on May 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Over the last weekend, I drove one thousand thirty-three miles round trip to Asheville, North Carolina to deliver a twenty-five minute set of stories accompanied by a score of live improvised modular synthesis. It was also my birthday weekend, and the one in which I passed from a 40-is-the-new-thirty forty-six to the undeniably-pushing-fifty age of forty-seven, and driving alone in a giant lumbering work truck in which I am prone to sing Blue Nile songs at the top of my lungs for hundreds of miles through the mountains gave me a lot of time for reflection.

I have been writing as a passionate pursuit for thirty-seven years, and writing clever, showy pieces for stage and synthesizer in a Laurie Anderson-inspired mode for twenty-seven, but I've really only been a good writer for about ten years. It's not a lack of practice that created that delay, as it happens, but a lack of pain, and of hurt, and of exhausted joy and terrible magic and frightening wonder and dazed bewilderment and all sorts of other recombinant mutant strains of experience that I lacked—and when I heard Fran Lebowitz quip that you can't really have writing prodigies in the same way you have musical prodigies because young people seldom have the accumulation of experience required to produce good writing, it was like the sound of a bell tolling a clear note in the cacophony of doubt as to why I could write so well and yet had nothing I felt like publishing after writing thousands and thousands of pages of performance pieces, blogs, internet commentary, and private journals.

My father had run off to New Orleans in the fifties and gotten up to mysterious involuntary alliances with gris-gris men and powerful women that he would never describe except to say “Son, because I know how you are, I don't want you to ever go to New Orleans until you lose something so important to you that you almost feel like you won't survive it. Will you promise me that?”

“Yeah,” I agreed, with a bit of a scowl, but I hadn't a clue what he meant.

So, on a whim, and with an invitation to an event in the mountains of North Carolina that I agreed to before I realized, thanks to my postage-stamp-state sense of geographic distances, would involve almost twenty hours of driving and one hundred sixty-seven dollars worth of gasoline, I decided to revive a story I first wrote and told on stage in 2003, from a collection of odd, disjointed stories about my days in elementary school, and there was something about the process of revisiting that text and realizing that the story I wrote back then was not the story I was really trying to tell, but I was a different person at that age. The man I am now, though? Yeah, now I see it, right through the obvious amusing little freak show bildungsroman that had thus far been my ribald stock-in-trade, and I sat and edited seven stories and an overwrought coda from showier days into something smaller, more personal, and more...precise.

On stage, I was frustrated by mic noise, having foolishly brought a smaller microphone instead of the one with which I'd rehearsed, and I had gain staging issues in my mixer, cues in my controls that I missed or left running out of sequence, and I got flustered at one point in a way I never do anymore, stumbling in my reading, and it seemed like a not very good rendition of the theme, except, as I sat there afterward, as the next act was setting up, a handsome young beardo with tattoos all the way out to his fingernails sidled up and said, “I just wanted to thank you because...well, that really made me laugh and was dark and real and...how did you do that?”

I generally fear the aftermath of any show I do, when what I really want to do is skulk out and brood, but that made me feel good, because what he'd processed was just what I'd set out to do, and that's the hallmark of the kind of writer I am now.

When I was first getting started, I could make people laugh, or make them sad, or flesh out narratives to give a sense of the character and settings I was describing, but the synthesis of bitterness and joy or of longing and gratitude? Those things are things you earn by taking the long way around, and there really isn't a short cut there, except for those extraordinarily rare persons with a savant's intuition for gesture.

I drove home from North Carolina, singing and enjoying waves of overlapping melancholy and optimism as the mountains rose and fell around me and wild storms tore through in sheets of pounding rain, and I suspect I may finally be heading for publication as the patience and drive of maturity overwhelms the capricious insecurity of most of the rest of my life, and it's okay that it's taken this long for me to hone my skills.

Things broke my heart, and I lost things so important I almost felt like I wouldn't survive, but instead of breaking me, these disasters made me better, and made the stories I tell make the sense that had been hidden under the gestures and ornamental ironwork of perfect words before. I stopped at a scenic overlook in Tennessee and climbed to the top of a long paved trail, huffing like a cartoon train, then just sat and watched the clouds passing by and remembered a friend who'd been my first and best companion on adventures just like this one and how absurd his death had been and what I'd promised myself in the echoing silence that fell once I knew that I'd never see him again or patch up the problem we'd had twenty-seven years earlier—This is the year of "yes." I'm ready to make a go of it.

Now, though, it's the second year of yes, and I aim to go with yes all the way out, albeit with a bit of gallows humor. Handing my dog over for the weekend, I told my mother that if I were to plunge to my doom over a guardrail, that she was to put my box of papers into a rusty shopping cart and find Walker Percy.

"Walker Percy is dead. Plus, I'm not pushing a rusty shopping cart all over the place. Why do I have to push your papers around in a rusty shopping cart?"

"Style, Ma."

"Why don't you just find yourself a literary agent like normal people?"

"Well, yeah, I could do that. It's not as funny that way, though."

My mother just rolled her eyes.
posted by sonascope at 1:57 PM on May 22, 2015 [13 favorites]

I hate being a late bloomer. Which is to say that I haven't really bloomed yet and I have major doubts that I ever will at all. At what point will I actually be good enough to do, well, anything? When will I ever develop the drive to start my own business, start sending things out for publication, start publicizing myself all over social media and then get the usual harassment? When will my life begin (TM Rapunzel), etc.

I don't know why I don't really do any of that stuff. Or I start dabbling in it and realize that man, I hate dealing with business. Or eh...my writing's just not that good enough to appeal to professionals/other people and it's not even worth trying to edit it. I wonder if I'll ever get over that feeling of "bleeeech" once I finish something. Having other people critique it just gets me so many different reactions that I don't know how or what to fix and I give up. I kind of wish I had a partner/mentor/someone to take me on, but I don't so I have to DIY.

I always wanted to perform on stage, but couldn't exactly get any play directors to take me on. I reasonably assume(d?) I suck as an actor. I had zero leg flexibility, so forget dance. I can't sing. I like playing stringed instruments but am not good at that either. Now I've taken up doing improv--hey, I paid to get on stage but at least I got ON one--and keep thinking, why did I take so long? And then I think, well, duh, I didn't drive and I've lived in two small towns my whole life and it's not like I had opportunities to shop around in other places to find something that fit me. I had to try where I could get to and they didn't want me, so... Anyway, I finally feel like I'm MOVING and it's amazing.

I hope it kicks in in other areas.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:42 PM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've found acceptance of my mediocrity to be liberating. It takes the pressure off to produce something magical and groundbreaking and allows me to just enjoy whatever it is I'm doing (i.e. sucking at). I wouldn't be taking any dance classes if it wasn't for this attitude.
posted by schroedinger at 5:04 PM on May 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

When I was a young man I had pretensions of being a poet. I worked at it diligently through college, had some encouragement, but gradually put it aside as the exigencies of living a life intervened. I rationalized it by saying to myself: you don't really believe in the power of your words to do anything in the big world anyways, so why bother? Now, I find myself, surprisingly, in early middle age and, having seen many of my other dreams come to nothing, now wonder if I made a terrible mistake. I have started, tentatively, to write again, though I wonder if it's too late. I hope it's not too late.
posted by Chrischris at 5:14 PM on May 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

(referring to the content of the OP, not anyone in the thread specifically)

im always baffled by this sort of thinking. its so transparently, obviously linked to prestige-seeking and not remotely to the process or content of the actual art form. if all it takes to prevent you from pursuing writing / music making / or whatever form of expression is because you think people will think you are too old or youre afraid of not being perceived as a genius then im sorry but you probably dont have much interesting to contribute anyway in the first place, and most certainly couldn't handle the shoots and ladders of navigating the industry, submissions, rejections, fights with editors, publishers, etc etc. You have to actually deeply care about shit to make this stuff happen.

if you scoff at that and say "well i just want to do it for enjoyment!", then there is literally nothing stopping you, you obviously own a computer with a keyboard attached to it. get going!

and dont think im being limiting here. truth is that you can become reasonably good at just about anything in a few years of applying yourself. and with diligence and proper structure, likely expert level by 5. so unless you are 95 years old or whatever then there is plenty of time to become good and find your voice, whatever, provided you *actually do the thing* rather than sitting around talking about how you wish you did the thing. life is really really long. there is no excuse other than "im lazy" or "id rather just pretend." but then imho its better to be honest with yourself about it.
posted by young_son at 9:19 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Harriet Doerr. She published her first novel at the age of 74. A wonderful writer, great stories and wonderful turns of phrase, too -- she was one hell of a writer. I encountered her first in a collection of short stories; really great. I am awfully glad she wrote, no matter the lag in time; she was busy living her life, only later did she turn to words. A fine US writer.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:39 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Only a block-head writes for any reason but to make money."
--Samuel Johnson

"I love deadlines and the sound they make when they go whooshing by."
--Douglas Adams

Please quote if you're going to use quote marks; there's a whole internet out there that can fill in your half-remembered pith and vinegar.
"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." This is from Boswell's Life.
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” This is from The Salmon of Doubt.
posted by Wolof at 7:54 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've found acceptance of my mediocrity to be liberating. It takes the pressure off to produce something magical and groundbreaking and allows me to just enjoy whatever it is I'm doing (i.e. sucking at). I wouldn't be taking any dance classes if it wasn't for this attitude.
posted by schroedinger at 7:04 PM on May 22

The old saw states flatly: If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well. That concept, that idea, it can really break the spirit of any student, when first learning any discipline. So often that can become translated by the person learning the discipline to If it is worth doing, it is worth doing perfectly. And that is a set-up for failure, there at the start.

A much more accepting attitude, and one that allows for peace as an individual learns is that hey, if it is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly. Point being that you have to allow yourself room to make rough attempts, and perhaps many of them, along the road to doing something well.

You need to look no further than the early sketch-books of Vincent Van Gogh to see the truth in this; I am sure that there are plenty of other examples but his early sketches are the ones that come to mind as I type this in; his early sketches look exactly like you would expect a learners drawings to look. He held the course though, and in so doing he gave the world some of its greatest treasures.

So. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:00 AM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

jscalzi: I had my first novel published when I was 36

Also in the SF world, cstross (late 30s), Ann Leckie (mid 40s), Ken MacLeod (early 40s).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:11 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Interesting article about and interview of Harriet Doer from Stanford Alumni magazine, which is where she started school young, married and had children and a large life and then went back to Stanford, late in her life, finished her degree, impressed deeply people in the writing program there, stayed on for another year, finding her voice ever more, then turned herself loose on the world, which was sure glad to meet her.

The story of hers which I first read is Edie: A Life -- a long short story, very rich, absolutely worth seeking out.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:27 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've found acceptance of my mediocrity to be liberating.

Jake the Dog says it best: "Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something."
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:40 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

jscalzi: I had my first novel published when I was 36

Also in the SF world, cstross (late 30s), Ann Leckie (mid 40s), Ken MacLeod (early 40s).

Sheri S. Tepper didn't have her first novel published until she was 53.
posted by dng at 4:46 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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