This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
by Anna Bell
Author Joanna Trollope made headlines recently when she claimed authors created their best work after 35. Whilst her assumption seemed very specific, it got me wondering, is there an age at which you become a good writer?
I’m sure we could all name great authors who have written amazing novels before their 35th birthday off the top of our heads. Novelicious very helpfully wrote a strong list of 10 authors who had done just that, including Jane Austen, Mary Shelley and J. K. Rowling. And I can think of others – notably Abigail Gibbs, who got a six-figure book deal with HarperCollins in 2012 at just 18. So what was Joanna getting at?
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It seems she was attempting to say that authors write their best work after their 35th birthday once life has knocked them around a bit. Whilst most authors below that age might have felt a little patronised, I rubbed my hands with glee. You see, I’m not too far off that special birthday and I’m looking forward to the prospect of my writing magically improving suddenly. But is there any truth in it?
I’m not saying that I think 35 is the age. I don’t think I could have told my friend, who found her mother hanging in her kitchen at the age of 19, that she’d have to wait 16 years until she had endured more pain and suffering in her life to become a good writer. It’s the nature of life that we’re all dealt different hands, and everyone’s experience of joy and pain are completely subjective. Whilst some people have an easy run of it, others have a life of hard knocks. Yet, does any of it matter when becoming a writer? Do you need to have experienced great pain and great joy to be successful?I can only think of my own experiences and how I’ve matured as a writer over time. When I think about my writing in my early twenties, it is mostly based on my own life. I wrote of the loves I’d had and the lifestyle I lived. Reviews of the first novel I self-published, Millie and the American Wedding, often commented on how much Millie drank, as her whole week (the time frame of the novel) seemed to be spent binge drinking. Whilst my characters and storylines have matured alongside me, and I’m no longer using my life as my muse, I think I’ve become a better writer. I don’t think that’s necessarily a reflection of age or life experience, but experience of the writing craft itself.
I always find it fascinating to read what authors did before they were an author. Writing is one of those professions that has no defined career path. I myself used to be a military museum curator. Whilst you get a lot of people who always want to be an author when they leave education, there aren’t many who become one straight away. But could you? For me, I think I needed those years travelling and working in the museum sector, meeting so many different types of people and gaining life experience. I know that my writing is enriched because of it.
I seem to be no further forward in answering my original question though. For me, I know my writing matured in my mid-twenties, but I’m sure my writing in my mid-forties will be wildly different.
What do you think? Do writers need life experience? Is there an age when you know your writing changed?