I turned 24 yesterday.
In that time, I did not become an acclaimed writer that millions of people read. Which hardly seems the type of thing a 24 year old should be doing and yet I still have to remind myself that it’s okay I’m still crafting my trade.
As a society, we seem obsessed with the next “hot young thing”. No matter what field we’re talking about, a youngster punching above their weight is given attention. Magazines dedicate lists to: the Most 20 Influential People Under 20, 25 Powerful Figures Under 25, The 30 Best Authors under 30. It’s hard to escape, and you can struggle to keep perspective.
I’ve been writing for a long time and telling stories for even longer. With every passing year, they’ll be a moment where I panic. I’m no good. I’ve been doing this for years. This is clearly something I’m not meant to do. I’m already 24. How ridiculous that last sentence is.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his first short story when he was 20. Sherlock Holmes didn’t come along till he was 27. I am afraid, Sir Arthur, that you missed the cut to be powerful before 25.
Neil Gaiman’s first story appeared in print when he was 23. Sandman didn’t turn up until he was 28 and his first novel didn’t arrive until he was already 30. You would never have made that Best Authors Under 30 list, Neil.
Nick Harkaway’s debut novel didn’t come out until he was 36 years old. Susanna Clarke was 37 years old before she even had a short story published. Ann Leckie’s first short story didn’t appear until she was 40 years old. While there are exceptions, most authors are not being published and writing their best work until their late 30s at the earliest.
This is what I have to keep reminding myself. A writer doesn’t spring from the ground fully formed. There is an apprenticeship to be served. I have many years in front of me to find the right stories to tell, to use the right words to tell them.
I have time.
I have perspective.