The reason I'm writing this blog post is because one of my readers, Zandile Funde, wrote me this awesome loooong email that was sort of a review of SIREN SUICIDES, sort of a commentary on writing in general, and it had one very important question:
"...the reason I brought up being a student (I'm turning 22 in 2 months) is that earlier this year, you wrote a blog post about how you feel that writing at a young age should rather be avoided (that people should live longer before they decide to write, that's how I understood it). I then pretty much felt as if I were a modern-day Sisyphus, participating in 'futile writing.' It made me stop and think maybe I'm not yet mature enough to be writing at this point because I haven't been through half the ordeals that you have..."
I must apologize to those of you who read that blog post and walked away from it with the impression that just because you're young, you shouldn't be writing. That would be the worst thing to do. What I meant there was what I have heard from other writers and what I have experienced myself, namely, the fact that the more life you have lived, the more stories you have to tell, the deeper they will be. Let me expand on this thought here, and hopefully, if you feel like you're too young to write, or if you're afraid to write because you think people won't take you seriously, you will walk away from this empowered to write, no matter what your age is. I will sort of break down your life into 4 learning stages that I have heard at some business workshop at some point in my past life, as it was applicable to growing employees, or teaching employees, or some thing like that. Since then I applied this principle to my own life and writing, and it works. Also recently Michael Gruber, my mentor and author of 20+ thrillers, reiterated it in 4 writing workshop concepts of stages every writer has to go through. I will combine the two here.
Stage 1, MADMAN: You don't know that you don't know. This is the glorious time when you're young, green, naive, have no care in the world, and just jump into things without thinking. Anything is possible. Why? Because you don't know that you don't know. Or, in the writing workshop terms, you're a madman. You just do stuff. Can you write a short story? Oh, that sounds exciting, totally! Can you write a novel? That sounds cool, sure. Do you wanna participate in a flash fiction contest? Of course! Wanna help us write a script for this new amazing sitcom we're trying to produce independently? You got it, I'm in. Basically, you can apply this principle to anything. Remember yourself when you saw a neighbor kid who rode a bike, and you just got your new bike, without training wheels, and you rolled it out and you watch that kid in fascination. It looks so easy, what he does, you decide, you can totally do it. You hop on the bike like that other kid, you pedal, and for a few seconds you're happy, you can do it, yes! Then you crash. BOOM. This is the second stage. (I have to tell you a story. I did this stupid thing not too long ago, a few years ago, actually. I was skiing. I'm not a pro, and I saw those kids jump off a ramp, and I thought, oh, that looks easy. Next thing I know, I go down the ramp, I fly, I fall, and I break my leg. But for a few glorious seconds I was airborne and it was awesome, also, being taken down the mountain on a sled was awesome too.).
Stage 2, CARPENTER: You know that you don't know. Since we're using the biking allegory here, I say, let's continue with it. So, you get up, and you're like, fuck, this hurts! Well, I mean, depending on your age, of course, you might have said something like, ouch, I need a band-aid! Whatever you said, you have just crossed the line. Now you know that you don't know how to bike. It's the same with writing. You start writing a story, a short story or a novel, doesn't matter, and somewhere in the middle, or maybe even somewhere in the very beginning, you get lost, you don't know how to continue, you realize there is more to writing than just writing, you lose the storyline, you're not sure about your characters, it's too much too fast, you get overwhelmed, and you realize that you actually can't write. Not yet. This is the stage where many people quit. DON'T!!! You have to write through this, in order to get to the next stage. This is where age factor comes in. If you've been through life, you've been beaten up by things, you know that giving up is not the choice you can make, you have a certain maturity about it. But when you're younger, you just tend to throw your arms up and yell, FUCK IT! and walk away. I was like that too, I remember I did totally stupid things and gave up on things. For example, I wanted to become a translator at 16, but then my father told me that I would suck at it (despite the fact that I knew German like a native language back then), so I NEVER EVEN TRIED TO APPLY. Yeah, talk about giving up easily. Not now. Now, if you try to sway me from my path, I will plow over you like a bulldozer. The term "carpenter" applies here in the sense that you sweat over little things, because you don't dare think you can build bigger.
Stage 3: ARCHITECT: You don't know that you know. This is a fun stage. Basically, if you have got to the 2nd stage, now you are stubbornly writing a lot of shit. Or, you are stubbornly practicing biking every day, throwing jealous glares at that neighbor kid, pressing your lips together, and trying, and trying, and trying. You fall hard on your ass, you scrape your knees bloody, but that other kid pisses you off so much with his biking skills, that you just want to beat him, you want to be as good as him. You want to bike like a god. So you drag your sorry ass out on the street every day after school. Same with writing. You read something absolutely genius, and you go, man, I will never write as good as this. If you are younger, you tend to get depressed and you again are tempted to give up, but with age and with life you gain this ability to persevere, because you know that nothing good in life comes easy, there is no mom or dad to wash your socks or cook you dinner, you gotta do it yourself, so you persevere. You write, and you write, and you write. Then something magical happens. People who read your stuff (your friends at this stage, or your mom, or writers from your writer's group) start telling you that they like your writing. But you're still in the frame of mind that you don't know shit, so how can they like it? Because, you're getting good. You simply don't know yet that you know (I'm somewhere between this and the carpenter stage, I still doubt myself a lot). So "architect" term doesn't quite apply here, but it also sort of does. You do know what you're doing, and you do it on a big scale, you just haven't accepted it yet.
Stage 4, JUDGE: You know that you know. This is the level that you might reach somewhere down the path of writing 20 novels, or more (I'm guessing, of course). This is when you for the first time see that you can do it, and you know that you can do it. Like that kid with the bike, it's the first time that kid rides and sees that he is better than that other kid, and feels like he can actually do it. It usually takes someone else to point it out, so maybe he goes to a biking competition or something like that, and wins the prize. This is usually attained by senior writers, by people who have lived life and have written a lot. I hope one day to be here, I wonder what it feels like, to know your craft and do it. It must be exhilarating. Or maybe it isn't? Maybe it's the stage when you go like, FUCK IT, I want to try something new now because I know this writing thing inside and out? Stephen King has been announcing his plans for retirement since 2002 and still hasn't quit writing. I just downloaded his latest novel DOCTOR SLEEP, the sequel to THE SHINING. This leads me to believe that once you hit the "judge" stage, you get so happy, that you swim in your own ability to write, you thrive in it. I wonder what that feels like, knowing. I can't imagine. If I will ever get there, I'll let you know.
Now, to close this topic. Age affects your writing not only in the aspect of simple life experience and maturity in the face of failure, but also in the amount of material you can write about. Basically, writing is not about things that you have seen in your life, it's about things you have felt. It doesn't matter if you have traveled the world since age 5, and you are 15 now and want to write a novel about a character who travels. Have you had the highs of utter joy? Have you had the lows of dark depression? Are you able to paints the bouquet of human emotion vividly, to pull your reader in? You can fake anything else in your writing EXCEPT emotions. It's why we read books, to feel. You will notice this. You have read a book that has been masterfully plotted but have left nothing in you, didn't touch you, right? And you have read a book that had flaws, that wasn't perfect and even got you pissed off at it, but it left a lasting impression, an emotion was stirred inside you, and you remember it, right? That's it. That's what writing is about, about us connecting on the emotional level with each other, across time, space, and other boundaries we have erected and are now suffering because of it. Literacy, books, that is our bridge to each other. So how can you write about what it feels like losing a loved one, if you have never experienced someone dying in your family? You can't. I mean, you can fake it, of course, because you remember how sad you were when your pet had died, but it's not the same. This is where age is completely irrelevant. You could have lived more life at 16 than others have at 60. So, please, WRITE, no matter what your age is, just don't give up and write, and experience life to its fullest, to make your writing richer.