Someone said somewhere (or maybe I read it somewhere) that unless you're in your 30's, you probably don't have a novel in you yet. Don't quote me on this, please, and don't throw me these angry glances. I was not the one who said it, but it does make sense to me, because to be able to write well, you have to have lived life, a lot of life, to gather enough material for a genuine story. There are, of course, always exceptions to the rule, but this makes sense to me. I always get people asking me, where do you get inspiration, how do you do research, how do you keep yourself going, do you ever have writer's block? And the answer to all those questions is, nope, I don't ever do any of the above things and I don't have a writer's block, I have the opposite problem, I barely have time to write down my stories. Why? Because I lived so much life, that now it's bursting to get out of me in the shape of stories. Well then, is it true? Do you have to live a lot of life in order to write well? I think you do. Let me illustrate.
Without pain there is no depth. There are plenty of books out there that are brilliantly written, superbly plotted and amazingly structured. But many of them are very shallow, I have read a few myself. Don't take me wrong, there is nothing wrong with these books, but they lack depth, they don't grab you, they leave you unsatisfied, and they don't stay in your memory for long. You forget about them and move on. Why is that? It's because the author hasn't gone deep into her or his emotion enough to extract powerful life stuff and spill it on pages. It's a hard thing to do, and, frankly, unless you've been through a lot of shit in your life, you're too spoiled to reach into those depths, it's too painful, and if you're not used to the pain, not used to going through the pain, you're very unlikely to do it. Many things happen in life to people, but usually, the older you are, the more life experience you have had, the more you can draw upon. Perhaps this is where the 30's mark comes from in terms of a median age for one to be able to write a novel. You've got to admit, it does make sense. If there is nowhere to dive, how deep can your novel get? Not too much, sadly.
Writing requires discipline. And most young people, let's face it, are flakes. I know, because I was a flake too. I thought I could do it all, I took on too much, and then ultimately I failed. Over, and over, and over again, until it hit me on how to do it properly. For that, I had to make many mistakes, to arrive at a point in my life where I could consciously commit to writing a book and then actually following through on it. It's a huge project, it takes a lot of will power to be able to lock yourself up, to say no to parties, to dinners, to friends who want to take you out. It takes focus and determination, and without it writing suffers, its quality suffers, so again, unless you've been through a lot in life and understand where your priorities are, it will be very hard for you to focus on your writing. There will be angst, and agony, and anxiety, and fear, and uncertainty, and plenty of other amazingly disturbing emotions that are very good at taking your focus away. And unless you're focused, you're very unlikely to produce quality work, it's as simple as that.
There is no richness without layers. One of the most powerful characteristics of great novels is the multitude of layers. There is something for everyone, that's how a book appeals to a very large audience. A novel has to be layered in order to achieve this, and unless the author has had a very rich life, there won't be anything to draw upon, to be able to build needed complexity, of characters, of the plot, of style, of dialogue, you name it. Every aspect of the novel suffers when there are not enough facets to its creator. Again, it might read very well in the end, but it will never grow big, never amount to a cult status of a favorite book for many many readers, because there won't be enough of it. It's like an ability to see one thing from different angles and then being able to describe it in such a manner that makes it visible to the reader as well. And unless one has experienced it firsthand, how can one write about it? Fake it, of course. And if it's fake, we, as readers, will immediately feel it and set the book aside. You can fake anything you want, except emotions, and it's through emotions that we connect to a great book, and it's why we suggest it to friends, and rave about it, and want to read it over and over again. Without this emotional richness your book will feel empty.
Maturity and freedom are the basis for great art. The biggest struggle for any artist is always the belief in oneself. It's a terrible thing to attempt when you're young. Everything is uncertain, the world is uncertain, life is uncertain, you spend your time searching for this certainty, struggling to find the meaning to life, throwing yourself from misery to happiness to misery again, for years, until one day you understand that there is no meaning to life, there is no certainty, life is pure chaos and there is nothing you can do about it. Except you can. You can stop searching for answers and start creating, to share your epiphany. This is how great art is born, out of this willingness to accept life as it is, and it often comes with age, because it starts with maturity and ends with freedom. There is certain freedom in being able to look in the face of a catastrophe and be okay with it advancing on you, it's what we like to call bravery, but very often it's simply this utter calm that stems from the understanding of life itself. Until you're there, it's hard to produce great art, your own doubts will get in the way and wreck your inspiration.
There are many more points I can come up with here, now that I'm writing on this topic, so it must ring true for me, then, this whole writing-well-after-having-lived-life thing. I certainly lived a lot of life. I can't tell if my writing is any good. I hope so. I know my readers will tell me. But I know one thing. I couldn't write until I came to this point in my life of being happy with myself, with who I am, with how my life turned out, to accepting it for what it is. After that, it was like a faucet got open, stories started pouring out of me with alarming speed. Still are. I sure hope they never stop.