Too Old for Success?

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Someone told me once that if you don’t publish anything by the time you’re twenty-five, then you aren’t any good. All of the greats published before they were twenty-five–some of them were even dead by then, you know. Of course, I knew this was all rubbish, but in the back of my mind, the idea took root and persisted. I had to be published by twenty-five. I had to be published, not because it meant I was successful, but that I was one of the greats.

I’ll be twenty-six in a little over a month. Though I’ve been published in a newspaper and a required reading book for my high school, I haven’t had that great bit of success. I’ve not been recognized as great, despite entering contests, winning medals, getting As. Everyone was shocked I hadn’t been published yet. I remember how well you wrote in high school; when is your book coming out? Have you found an agent? What happened?

Since I’ve been out of school, I’ve seen many people get published. I’ve seen people get published who were only slightly interested in writing. Maybe I’ll write a book. I’ve seen people published whose passions lie in other areas. I’ve seen people published that, being honest, I didn’t think had good ideas or wrote about trivial things.

I began to be a hater of published authors. I could do that and be published, but I’m not compromising my art! I thought. Then I started a book in a genre I never had an interest in writing that sells well. It was something I wanted to write and was still good writing, but I felt like I was writing it now, pushing forward with it now, because it fits the current trend in publishing (and no, there are no vampires, shape shifters, or angels). I was obsessed with being published before twenty-six, even though I didn’t have many things worth sending to a publisher.

The writing wasn’t fun anymore, nor was it rewarding. I wasn’t trying to tell a good story well; I was looking for recognition, for validation. I wanted someone to say, officially, Yes you can write well, and people are interested in what you have to say. I was even developing an unhealthy attachment to my blog stats.

Now I’m settling back down. I’ve refocused myself. Now, I realize I don’t just want to be published; I want to publish something I’m proud of, something that’s ready to be out in the world. I realize that either people want to read what I write or they don’t; it has no bearing on the fact I feel compelled to write, and I will keep writing no matter if it’s published in my lifetime to worldwide acclaim or critically and commercially panned, or not published at all.

What are your thoughts on an “age” for publication? Do you have an age you are aiming to be published by? How important is publication to you?

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NaNoWriMo Postmortem

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I wonder if failing is like lying. Can you fail by omission? Does it matter if you’re closer to success than failure? What constitutes failure? Is it up for debate?

NaNoWriMo ended yesterday. All of us participants are now wearily coming out of the basement to access the damage this tornado has wrought in our lives. Perhaps yours didn’t end up too bad; you got a good first draft of a novel and kept your sanity. If you made it to 50,000 words, according to NaNoWriMo, you succeeded. I know a few of you who discovered your novels weren’t done at 50,000 words, so maybe you view it a little differently.

I didn’t make it to 50,000 words. I wasn’t even close. So, in that sense, I failed. I knew, in the back of my mind, that with all of the things I had pressed into last month that I would fail. So the goal for me was to learn and let the experience teach me about myself as a writer.

Here’s what I learned:

  • There’s no such thing as a “dead story” when the idea and characters work. I thought because I hadn’t been able to write on a story in a while, or hit a wall that it meant the story wouldn’t work or I wasn’t a good enough writer to write the story. But using an old idea and characters for NaNoWriMo taught me that sometimes I just need to let a story simmer until the ideas are fully cooked.
  • There’s no such thing as a “writing mood.” I don’t have to be in the mood to write. I don’t need a writing desk and the perfect lighting. I can write anywhere at any time. Even when I feel like I have nothing to say, if I sit down and read where I left off, I can usually fall write back into the story. I have no excuse not to write now.
  • I can’t let my deadlines choke me. I’d always heard that if you aren’t published by the time you’re 25, you haven’t got it. I don’t know why I believed that. So many people in literary history have proven that wrong. But, I was so obsessed with getting published this year, while I’m still 25, that I was choking my creativity. I didn’t want to write down anything I couldn’t publish immediately. NaNoWriMo forced me to write everything. Even if I wasn’t sure or didn’t think it worked. Even though I didn’t make the deadline, I am OK with that. I wrote some great things; I wrote some silly things. I didn’t let the deadline bother me. I can still finish my NaNoWriMo story. I will still finish it. In my own time.

How was your NaNoWriMo experience this year? Were you successful? What did you learn about yourself as a writer? What will you do with your novel now?