Your Path Is Perfect

We’re discussing age this week. What’s the perfect age to write a novel?

For me, this wasn’t really a choice, per se. I have been an aspiring novelist for basically my whole life, and I penned several books in elementary school. I don’t want to brag, but my mother said they were quite good.

What happened later was typical and predictable. I didn’t do all that well in my college poetry writing class, and then I graduated with an intense desire for financial solvency and a very practical teaching degree. At 21, I was hired at a junior high, and then I steadily taught for the next fifteen years before I thought about writing a novel again. I also got married and had two kids and went to graduate school in education. Life was busy, fulfilling, and mostly fun.

When my youngest child was in first grade, I turned 36 and realized that I’d be 40 at some point regardless of whether I started writing the novel I’d always meant to. I’d rather have written a novel by 40 than not, so it was time to actually put fingers to keyboard. I vowed to write just a little each morning on most days. I started one project, worked on it for a year, and then realized it wasn’t going anywhere. Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes was the next one I began. That book was published when I was 41.

All of this is a round-about way of saying: there is no right age to begin a novel. If I’d had the time in my twenties, I’m sure I’d have started then. Instead, I was awakened multiple times per night, every night, by the worst sleeper on the planet (he’s now 16). I also slept-walked through my master’s degree and worked full-time. I can see now that my late twenties were an exceptionally difficult time.

Maybe my early thirties would have been right, except I was awakened multiple times per night, every night, by the second-worst sleeper on the planet (now almost 12). I also loved teaching and spent all my spare seconds figuring out how to do it better.

So, for me, 40 was perfect. By 40, my kids were bigger, and something important about me had changed: I could accept feedback on my work. My self-esteem had long been attached to others’ approval of my achievements, and so revision would have been difficult for me earlier in my life. The truth is, you have to be excellent at accepting feedback in order to become a published novelist. You have to understand that revision suggestions do not mean, “I hate you, and you suck.” I was ready to learn–to really learn–about feedback and collaboration at 40.

Overall, I think, if you want to be a writer and have the wherewithal to put pen to paper, just do it. The time is now. Your path is perfect. Make a little time for yourself (fifteen minutes will do it in the beginning), and put some words on the page. Then, report back. Try again. Get older. Keep at it.

 

 

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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

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