Monday, May 16, 2011

Getting better with age

*Repost* Blogger ate this on Thursday (the post, not the cake), and has declined to give it back, so here it is again.

My birthday cake this year

I turned 30 yesterday. Not a horrifying age for anyone who's already reached and exceeded it, but it's caused me quite a bit of uncomfortable squirming in recent weeks.

You see, I *loved* my twenties. I looked forward to them while I was a teenager, and they turned out to be everything I hoped for and more. I travelled the world, I finished studying, I started work, I got married, I had a child, I bought a house, and overall I really I grew into *me*. Man, that was a hell of a decade.

While I'm quite sure there are equally wonderful milestones awaiting me in my thirties, I'm also having to farewell some perceptions that come with rolling into my fourth decade of life. One of the biggest is the idea of being a "young novelist".

Not my definition, I hasten to add. It used to be that a "young" novelist was anyone under 40, but these days the definition has largely shrunk back to 35 (see here and here for examples). Which, yes- gives me another five years to get published, and I do certainly intend for that to happen within the time period, but my expectations have changed somewhat.

I started writing in earnest when I was about 14, and at the time I had some grand ideas about what I was going to achieve. I was quite determined that I was going to be one of those ridiculous young achievers- a Tim Winton, a Markus Zusak- and that by the time I turned 30, I'd not only be published, but would have a whole slew of acclaimed novels under my belt, plus a Booker prize or two. Maybe a really enormous mansion bought with the proceeds of all my best-selling stories.

Ha. Oh, how we live and learn.

At times over the last decade I've found myself getting a little cranky at how life seems to be getting in the way of all this writing potential. I mean, really? All that time spent working, travelling, studying, getting through the day-to-day stuff associated with having a family and a house- maybe I could have spent more of my time writing over the last ten years. Maybe I didn't have my priorities right.

I'm sure you're shaking your head out there, but it's okay, I know. It's pretty simple, really. Everything I've done in the last ten years, I've done just right.

Yes, it's taking me longer to write my novel than I expected a decade ago. But I'm a considerably different person to the person I was back then, and every life experience I've had in the meantime, from the mundane to the fantastic, is elevating my writing to something it could not have been before. In fact, without those life experiences, there is just no way I could write like I can now. Sure, I might have had the basic ability to put words on paper and string together a story, but the layers and layers of complexity of human emotion and behaviour- no, I've learned just about everything I know about those through the school of life in recent years.

There's another aspect to how much my writing has improved over the last ten years, and that's the hundreds of thousands, probably millions of words I've written. Only through reading and writing do you actually improve your ability to create characters, plots and words that will move other people. There will always be prodigies out there who are naturally brilliant with words and characters, but for the rest of us, it takes time to write the number of words it takes to become really good. Patience, as they say, is a virtue.

There's a third thing that time has given me, and it's this- a bit of perspective and a bit of humility. These days, I'm well aware of how much I have left to learn, and my aims are a bit different. I'm no longer aiming for a critically acclaimed best-seller and a mansion in the Caymans- though don't get me wrong, I'll be delighted with any of those. No, these days I'm far more aware of why I write, and it's not to gain praise from others, which back in the day seemed the pinnacle of writing. It's to tell a story that means something to me, and to do it as well as I can. And that takes experience, understanding, and words and words and words- all the things you can only gain with age.

So, here's to another decade of words on the page, and of living and learning every single day. If I consider how much life has taught me in the last ten years, I feel quite sure that on this day ten years from now as I'm adjusting to my forties, I'll be shaking my head in wonder all over again in amazement at all the things I don't know now, but will by then.

Have your cake and eat it, too. The eating is the best bit, especially when it's a choc-orange mudcake.


  1. Some writers didn't hit big until their 40s or later. Raymond Chandler didn't publish his first novel until he was 52 or so and went on to become a literary icon. So thirty, schmirty.

  2. Yeah, that's kind of the point of the post, as it happens ;)

  3. Hey, Claire, don't sweat it. Really. You're so far ahead of me in writing experience and skills. I'm 55 and just really starting on fiction. If I ever get my WIP finished, we'll celebrate. In my twenties, I was working full time and dealing with chronic illness that left me with no energy to write. Now I'm in love with my 50s and retirement. ; )

    P. S. I want your cake!

  4. Happy Birthday Claire :) That cake looks awesome!

    I know what you mean about your aims shrinking, but at the same time, appreciating the chance you get to grow. I hope you still qualify as a "young novelist" eventually!

  5. My 30th birthday was on Thanksgiving. That really sucked. Had to have turkey, which I don't like, and the bars were closed. Boo!

  6. Oh Claire, this post was awesome! Wow.

    I have a feeling your thirties will be just as awesome -- but perhaps in different ways?

    I'm in the midmorning hours of my twenties, and so far, I have to agree with everything you said about it. I'm building a life I will (and do) enjoy living and I'm growing into the person I saw little glimmers of in my teens.

    I stopped writing for several years and sure, getting back into the swing of things has presented me with many challenges but I can see the difference between the old writing and the new. I'm sure that persistence will reap rewards just as you said.

    Gosh, your post got me all contemplative. [g] But again - happy birthday!!

  7. And here's my re-comment. ; )

    Claire, don't sweat it. Really! I'm 55 and I couldn't write when I was your age due to the fulltime job and chronic fatigue. Now that I'm retired, I'm thrilled to write. If I *ever* finish a WIP not to mention sell it, I'll be a debut middle aged writer. LOL!

    Seriously, you are so far ahead of me on skills, it's not funny. You'll always be a young author in my book. ; )

  8. Woohoo! Happy belated birthday!
    I was just thinking about this, as I just finished my first novel from conception to editing to betas to sending out queries and the further I get with it, the more questions I have about myself as a writer. My current novel is a compeletely different genre for a totally different age group, with a much different audience and a new style to match. As I'm working on it and loving it, I'm questioning more and more what I want out of writing and why I write. As I'll be turning 20 soon, your post gave me qutie a bit of hope. Thanks.

    <3 Gina Blechman

  9. Happy 30th! Take it from me. Your going to love this decade. I turned 30 not too long ago and am having a blast. Age brings wisdom and the smarts to know how much we still have to learn.

  10. Gorgeous cake, Claire and yummy looking too!
    And a timely post. I keep fretting about whether I'll ever achieve my dream of being published before 35, but you've reminded me that I've been taking this writing gig seriously for only a few years now - sure, I've been writing since grade school, but I've only been writing and editing with a view to publishing since... about 2006. Gotta stop feeling so rushed!

    Words, words and more words. You said it!

  11. Oh, and welcome to the thirties. I can't believe I'm half a year shy of 32 *gasp*

  12. I loved my 20s too, mostly the second half. But 30s are doing okay by me so far :) I'm turning 31 in a couple of months.

    Happy b'day!!

  13. @Rogue- ha! That sounds like the worst 30th ever, pretty much. Hope your birthdays since have been kinder. And thanks for taking the time to come back and comment again after Blogger ate your original ;)

    @Jilly- thanks! You sound like you're in the exact place I was in my early twenties- I also stopped writing for a period of three or four whole years, and it was almost like there was just too much living and growing to do to fit it all in. Finding the Compuserve Forum when I was 25 changed everything for me, so you're ahead of me already :)

  14. @Zan Marie- no sweat here :) You'll get there in no time, and you'll have the great advantage of retirement and extra time to put you miles ahead :)

    @Gina- thanks! I always admire people who are so on top of things before they're twenty- that's exactly how I thought I would be, but it sort of escaped my attention that I actually had to work at it. I don't mind that I was busy travelling and studying instead, but anyone who does knuckle down and get it done is a real hero to me. So, well done you :) You've got so many great years ahead of you, too.

  15. @E.C.- hurrah! Thanks for the reassurance :) I'm yet to come across anyone who's not enjoying their thirties so far (except me, really, since I went down hard with flu on my birthday and still haven't recovered a week later- I must admit, it's making me shake my head suspiciously and mutter about breaking down in my old age :P)

    @Deniz- so true. Feeling rushed just sucks, and it's needless. We'll get there when the universe is ready for us :)

    @Trisha- sounds like we've both got plenty to look forward to in the next few years :)

  16. (I want cake now, but only if it's pretty cake.)

    Happy birthday. Here's to a great and productive year of writing.

  17. Thanks Elizabeth! My workmates were horrified at having to cut the cake, being far too pretty, but we managed in the end :)

  18. Gorgeous cake, Claire! And as someone who is staring down the barrel of 40 this year, I can reassure you that 30 is a fine age to be. ;-)