Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Am I too young to write a novel?

Sometimes it seems like everyone and their auntie is writing a novel. If you hang around writers' boards as much as I do (procrastinating - er - I mean, researching) it starts to look that way. And some of them are very young - teenage young.

Ah, it takes me back to my own misspent youth. Donnie Osmond, tartan patches on my jeans, fly smokes behind the bike sheds. I don't remember ever thinking about writing a novel. Stories, yes. But my attention span was so brief back then I could barely get to the third page before chucking the whole thing in favour of watching Top of the Pops. What with all those raging hormones, swotting for exams and worrying about boys I barely put pen to paper.

And looking back I don't think it ever occurred to me that anyone would be remotely interested in my scribblings. Maybe that's just a symptom of my low self-esteem, but it's something that still hangs over me today when I write. Writing a novel is not the same as pouring out your angst into a diary or penning a short story for you and your family to read. Writing a novel is for a larger audience, and their interest in what you have to say is key.

This week I noted a post from a fairly young writer who bemoaned the attitude of some older people in this respect, quoting a college tutor who said she was too young to write a novel. The encounter had obviously knocked her confidence, but was he right?

I gave it a lot of thought, because in my gut I think he has a point but at the same time I wouldn't want to deter any young person from pursuing a writing career. It seems to me there are two aspects to writing a novel:

The first is the technical side - knowledge of grammar, description, dialogue etc. For this you can never start too young and the more you read and practice writing the better you will become.

The other is having a story to tell. This is where I think age is an issue. I do believe you need to have lived a little and experienced all kinds of emotions, but not only that; you need to have enough maturity to be able to see your experiences in perspective. This is something that comes to everyone at different times, so it's hard to generalise but usually only comes with age in all but the prodigiously talented.


Sophie Playle said...

Great post. Something I think about a lot, too.

The third thing you need to write a novel:
confidence in your ability, and drive to see it through to the end!

That's the main one I'm lacking, I think. Oh and the second one. And quite a bit of the first point, too.

Sandra Patterson said...

Thanks Sophie, but I don't believe you're lacking for a minute.

Confidence is a tough one. Writers get bashed a lot for having "ego", but isn't that just the dark side of confident determination to succeed?