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How Old is a Young Writer?

Colum McCann > Letters to Young Writers > How Old is a Young Writer?

How old is a young writer? The young writer is any age. Seventeen, sixty, forty-six, who cares. The youngest of young writers always wants that book out before they’re eighteen or at the very latest twenty-five. It’s a noble ambition and not one to be scuppered, but if you don’t make it, don’t fret. Thirty is okay. Fifty’s not bad. Sixty-six years old is a good time as any to start. It’s okay to get angry that someone else younger than you just got published. Go stare at their flap copy. Go dissect their bio. Whisper a very quiet fuck you of admiration in the bookstore. Then go home and write with even more fever. Never forget that the young writer cannot stop time either. (Only in writing can we ever stop time). Just because they’re younger than you doesn’t mean they will last. It’s okay to put pressure on yourself. That’s where your competition lies. But it’s not okay to whine about it. It’s not okay to think that you’re too old. But you can’t give up on it. There is nothing worse than a talented writer who regrets his life, and especially one who allows that regret to knock him into silence. You can still pick up the pen long after everyone thinks that you’ve given up. That’s the beauty of it all. You’re an athlete of a different type. Your mind doesn’t have to retire. So, get back to it. Resurrect it. Unfail it. Rise an hour earlier in the morning and get the work done, even secretly. And herein lies another piece of advice: Don’t tell too many people that you’re working on a book. Don’t give them the chance to ask you if you’ve finished yet. Don’t let them torture you at parties. There’s nothing worse than the question, How’s that book of yours coming along? (It’s second to hearing that someone else has actually finished a book). Most people don’t know how long it actually takes for a book to get written. Just say, it’s on its way — even if it’s not on its way. Soon. Keep carving, keep shaping. Eventually it will happen. And then, even when you’ve written it, you’ve only just begun. Time will tell. Sometimes it’s dawn and sometimes it’s after midnight.