When I decided I wanted to be a professional writer, I was eleven years old, and at that time, it seemed utterly impossible that I wouldn’t be famous by the time I finished high school. I mean, that seemed like plenty of time. Seven years? That was more than half my life so far! In many of the stories written during those pre-teen and early-teen years, the main characters died tragically before the age of thirty — because what really happens to anyone after that, anyway? Live fast, die pretty, and make sure you go out with a suitably dramatic bang!
With age comes wisdom, and by my late teens, I was ready to concede that, okay, sure, maybe it would take until the end of college — or even as late as, like, my twenty-third year on the planet — before I made a splash.
Oh, past!Cass, you sweet summer child.
Reality hit during college and hammered itself home in my early twenties, as I learned more about my craft and the publishing industry, as I started to wrack up my first pile of rejection letters, and as I came to realize that wow, 23 sneaks up on you way faster than you think it will. And so does 24. And 25, 26, 27, 28, and — gulp — 29? Oh sweet Juno, 29 years old and, it felt like, nothing to show for it. I had a completed manuscript, sure, and an agent, sure, but I didn’t have The Deal. I didn’t have a book I could show to people, or an answer to the question, “Oh, so have you written anything I would have read?” (This may also be a reflection of my tendency to minimize my successes as Not Really That Important. It doesn’t count unless it’s huge and extraordinary and, most importantly, everyone knows about it). I didn’t have anything tangible and concrete, and that felt like a massive failure.
I tried to console myself with reminders that Shakespeare didn’t get started writing until his mid-twenties, he wasn’t good at it until he was 31, and he wasn’t great until his late thirties. I still use that to assuage my tender dignity, actually.
I’m not gonna lie. It does bum me out that my debut novel is coming out so much later than even my better-adjusted early-twenties self thought it would. I cling to the fact that the sale to DAW occurred three days before my thirtieth birthday, as though that technicality is somehow validating, but the book will come out when I’m 32 years, six months, and two weeks old, and that’s just that. I know it’s a completely arbitrary thing, and age doesn’t have to define anyone, but the thought nibbles at me nonetheless.
I think part of it is… this is what I’ve got. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, I don’t own a house, and none of those things looks like it’ll be happening anytime soon. If ever — I’m starting to make peace with that possibility, too. (And to be honest… I’m not sure I want to ever own a house. From observing my friends and family, that looks like a lot more trouble than it’s worth). All those traditional markers of grown-up life are things I’ve missed, and no matter how many articles I read about that being totes normal for Millennials, I still feel a little… behind. There is a reason that “Wait for It” is one of my top five favorite songs in Hamilton. I resonate deeply with the lines:
I am the one thing in life I can control
I am inimitable, I am an original
I’m not falling behind or running late
I’m not standing still, I am lying in wait
I work to convince myself that… this is all okay. I and my writing both had to develop over time. Even once I started getting that forward momentum of an agent and a deal, publishing is a slow industry, and that’s not a reflection of my personal self-worth.
But still… what do I have to show for my thirty-two revolutions around the sun?