Writing & Publishing: Does Age Matter?

Photo credit: CityGypsy11 on Flickr
While re-watching Skyfall the other day, a short conversation between Bond and Q really stuck out to me. Upon seeing how young his new Quartermaster is, this discussion takes place (quoted from IMDB):
"James Bond: You must be joking.
Q: Why, because I’m not wearing a lab coat?
James Bond: Because you still have spots.
Q: My complexion is hardly relevant.
James Bond: Your competence is.
Q: Age is not a guarantee of efficiency.
James Bond: And youth is no guarantee of innovation."
I found this particularly interesting because the age argument is one that comes up again and again regarding various fields—and writing is no exception. We often hear of teenagers publishing their novels (Kat Zhang, Christopher Paolini, Kody Keplinger), which teen-aged unpublished writers often take as a call to action (if they can do it, so can I!) and unpublished writers beyond their teenage years are tempted to ask if they can get published, why can’t I?

The trouble with the age game is that it’s far too easy to compare. Age is one of the few variables that you can measure, which makes it especially tempting to play the age game, but I truly don’t believe that age is what’s important: experience is.

If you dig a little, you’ll often find that those young published writers were often writing seriously for years before they found publication—just like every other writer who reaches the status of “published.” Kat Zhang, for example, may have been published at 19, but she was writing with the goal of eventual publication since the age of 12

Then there are stories of debut authors like Lorna Page, who had her first book published at 93, becoming the oldest debut author on record in 2008. Or Helen Hoover Santmyer who was 87 when her most famous work, And Ladies of the Club, was published.

Age isn’t the important factor—not every teenage writer is going to get published in their teenage years because regardless of age, it takes some longer than others to reach a publishing-ready level. Some writers (albeit a minority) manage to get their first ever books published, but for most it takes years and more than a couple trunked manuscripts before they write the one.

It’s tempting to look at publishing as a race of sorts—to make goals like “get published by age x,” to look at young successful people and start to compare. But the problem with comparing is that nothing about publishing is a race and there are far too many factors out of your control to be able to compare fairly. The writers who debut with their first novel aren’t any better than those who debut with their eleventh book, nor are the 17 year-old authors any better than the 90 year-olds.

Age doesn’t matter. The writing matters, and by extension, experience matters.

So don’t get caught up in the numbers game—in fact, take all the time you need to make your book as good as you possibly can. You’ll be glad you did.

I don’t believe that age matters when it comes to writing, but now I want to hear from you: what do you think? Is age important? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


J. A. Bennett said...

Yes, I agree, age isn't the important thing. Building your skill is. Great post, once again!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you!

Anna Tan said...

Great post.

I tend to start comparing ages and annoy the heck out of myself because I'm either too young to be a success.... or too old and have missed the boat. Trying to stop that bad habit now.

Tina Barbour said...

Wonderful post! I especially like your comment, "nothing about publishing is a race and there are far too many factors out of your control to be able to compare fairly."

I think experience matters more than age. I've always been a writer, but I've written more consistently over the last 3 1/2 years because of my work (newspaper reporter) than I did before. I've gotten better at it. I'm almost 50, and I still believe I have books in me!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Anna! It is SO EASY to start comparing ages, and most times the comparison only leads to negativity, which can be quite a toll emotionally. The best thing we can do is divert that energy to our writing, instead. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Tina! I've always believed that any sort of writing (whether it's novel writing, essay writing, article work, etc.) is beneficial for writers. Experience is experience and the more you practice expressing yourself with words, the better a writer you will become, even in unrelated areas of writing.

Keep up the great work! :)

Daniel Swensen said...

To me it's all about how an author comports themselves. I once read an interview with a teenager who bragged about how her young age gave her a perspective on youth that no adult shared -- as if no adult had ever themselves been a teenager. She just came off as arrogant and silly. Age isn't necessarily a drawback when it comes to writing, but it isn't necessarily a perk either.

All my personal heroes are about ten years older than me and doing their best work right now, so I'm still feeling pretty decent about my slow pace. :)

Robin Red said...

As a recent high school graduate, I feel the age card hanging over my head constantly. I think my age gives me an advantage, though. I have more time to write without so many worries. I couldn't have reached this point juggling two jobs and caring for a family.

As for that conversation between Q and Bond, that scene alone started a whole shipping phenomenon. I laugh every time I read it.

Margaret Alexander said...

Excellent post, Ava! I agree, it doesn't matter. But I tend to look at it as: there's a lot of authors older than me that had to wait to get published, or to get that "big series hit" like Martin, so if I have to wait and work more at it, I have no right to complain. Everyone's writing journey is unique to them, so we have no idea when we will debut or with what novel, which agent, or which publisher. You just gotta keep working at your craft and keep your passion :)

Ava Jae said...

"Age isn't necessarily a drawback when it comes to writing, but it isn't necessarily a perk either."

That basically sums up my post in one easy sentence. When it comes to getting your work published, it doesn't matter how old you are--what matters is the quality of your writing.

And on another note, it sounds like you've got a great attitude about it. :)

Ava Jae said...

That's actually a great point about having more time. I hadn't really thought about that aspect while writing the post, but you're definitely right about young people not having to juggle quite so many things. While there's still school and jobs for many teens, just the fact that you don't have to worry about supporting yourself and a family quite yet makes the load a little lighter.

And I love that scene with Q and Bond. I can totally see how people would ship them.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Margaret! I love your point about everyone's journey being different--that's a fantastic way to look at it, and entirely true. And you're also right about your last sentence, too--in the end, that's the best thing you can do as a writer. :)

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