Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Too old to be published?

I read an article in the latest Writer's Digest called "Publish your first book after 50" by Scott Hoffman (Writer's Digest. April, 2008). It states, "As difficult as it is to publish a first novel at any age, does it become more difficult as you get older? The honest answer is yes..." What the...? The article then focuses on how to beat the bias against older authors, which is great, but the whole topic made me stomp around the house with that magazine crumpled up into a violent looking tube, shouting, "Are you telling me I only have about 9 years to get my novels published before my writing is considered expired? Before I become too old to market? I just figured out how to write, for #$&^$* sake!"

Turning 40 was bad enough. I'm no longer considered sexy or attractive by popular culture's standards. My boobs droop and my tummy won't stay tight, no matter how much I suck in my gut. Getting gray hair was another annoying fact of life I've had to live with. I am no longer in the demographic for "Bust" magazine and am supposed to read "More," which focuses on career women over 40. I'm no longer a "Hip Mama." But I lived with it. I embraced my 40's with excitement and vision, ready to let go of my own youth obsession and claim my full fledged womanly power, along with my growing womanly figure. I started a publishing company and am going back to school to learn a new, better paying career. But this? Too old to be a writer? This is too much!

Why is an older writer considered a bad risk in the book industry? Part of it has to do with the idea that people over 50 don't know how to use the internet, are afraid of email, and run screaming from MySpace. In this technological age, being internet savvy and willing to self promote via social networking is mandatory. So right there, younger writers with their blackberries and interactive blogs have the edge over older people who are just now figuring out how to use a cell phone. When books are being written in Japan on cell phones in text messages and published to acclaim, you know technophobes are in trouble.

Fine, I'll accept that, but don't lump all us so called older people into the technophobe category. I for one am learning everything I can about the internet, even going so far as to learn XHTML. Yes, I know the difference between HTML and XHTML. See, I know my internet.

I finished the article, noting every myth about older writers and how to overcome them. Remain energetic. Don't mention the "R" word (retirement). Keep your ideas new and fresh. Yeah, yeah... good advice. Advice for every writer, so why is this pointed at ME? I know I'm not 50 yet, but the idea that my writing-clock is ticking like my biological clock did in my 30's is extremely disturbing. Tick-tick-tick... you'd better get published soon or you never will. Hurry, hurry. Find a good idea. Finish that last novel. Go out there and hunt down a good partner/agent to get knocked up/published before it's too late. Eeeeeeekkkkkkk

I'm calm now. Got a little dizzy there for a minute. These mid-life panic attacks are overwhelming sometimes. I wonder if it's like menopause? Instead of hot flashes, I get heart palpitations thinking about how fast my life is going. I was supposed to be a famous writer by now. Instead I'm a 41 year old publisher with a drawer full of stories no one will read. Then I remember Tillie Olson. For one brief Spring when I was living in San Francisco and going to college, I worked for Tillie Olson, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. She raised a family while writing stories and wasn't published until she was in her 60's. She was one of those beautiful, intelligent, fiery women I idolized and I decided to be like her someday. Maybe I am? I'm not as well spoken or intelligent as she, but I'm still young and I'm learning. I have at least 20 more years to achieve the goal of being like Tillie Olson.

Aging sucks. It really does. When my knees hurt and I have to squint more to focus when trying to read a street sign, I really hate getting old. And yes, I know, it beats the alternative. I know how lucky I am to still be here on planet Earth, living a creative and fulfilling life, watching my daughter grow up, while sharing this journey with wonderful friends and a man who loves me. So I will try very hard not to take that article to heart. I will try not to let the idea that my creative time clock is about to strike midnight and my chance to go to the ball will be over.

Because when you examine the pros and cons, being 41 is a lot better than being 16.


Kristin Rae said...

I'm so loving this, Terena. It really speaks to me as I'm also in the process of recreating my career, going to school and trying to hammer out WHAT EXACTLY I'M GOING TO DO. It feels a lot like the pressure I felt in my 20's to DECIDE on something, make a definite plan, but I think one of the good lessons I've learned since my early 20s is that things don't always GO according to plan, so flexibility is good too.

My next problem is that I use "flexibility" as an excuse to avoid "discipline." But that's just of the things I admire about you most is your ability to have discipline. Maybe that's the next lesson I have to learn.

Thanks for this. You're so ON it, as usual...

Kim Green said...

the real question may be, in what areas do we NOT discriminate against older people? (apparently limited to AARP membership, elderhostel and denny's early sup....)

that said, in terms of how life experience affects writing generally, i have noticed that putting distance between myself and events or feelings i want to write about gives me greater restraint in dealing with those things -- in a good way. when i write about them, i am less melodramatic and self-indulgent. i am more clear-eyed (this is rich coming from someone whose most clear-eyed day ever is long-fanged, drooling madness in anyone else's book). but you get the point.

btw, that was some great writing there as you railed against the Man!

Ivy Tobin said...

Oh Terena....we are such kindrid spirits! (I'm an Aquarius also.) I am soooooooo glad I met you on Craigs list and that we are working together...You are amazing! The way you describe feeling is how I've felt my entire life; Am I too late??? ....You are a youngster. My 40s were great. Had my one and only child @ 40....Now in my early 50's I am confident there's still time to be published and not shelved out of a literary contribution to the world of Chic Lit...Reading your blog truly helped me get to know you and assured me my work is in good hands. Rock On!For sure we are on the exact same page... Ivy Tobin