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Writers Over 40: Your Best Work Is Behind You


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Sam Tannenhaus says that the idea that writers under 40 are "young" is misleading in the sense that it indicates post-40 maturity might make for stronger writing. Not so, he says, pointing out a number of writers who delivered their best work before age 40.

"There’s something very misleading about the literary culture that looks at writers in their 30s and calls them ‘budding’ or ‘promising,’ when in fact they’re peaking,” Kazuo Ishiguro told an interviewer last year. Ishiguro (54 when he said this) added that since the age of 30 he had been haunted by the realization that most of the great novels had been written by authors under 40.

That quote caught my eye because I consider Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go a "great novel," although his fans might choose earlier works by the author as his best. That book was published just a few years ago, probably around the time Ishiguro was 50.

I've also just finished Haruki Mirakami's After Dark, my first book by the author. Andrew says the author's best work is either The Wind-up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore, both of which were published (not necessarily written), if Wikipedia's dates can be believed, when the author was in his 50s and 60s, respectively.

So there are exceptions to the rule, no doubt.

I don't have anything else to add to the discussion at the moment, but would conclude by saying that, at age 39-and-a-half, I have six months left to write the Great American Novel.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Sam Tannenhaus says that the idea that writers under 40 are "young" is misleading in the sense that it indicates post-40 maturity might make for stronger writing. Not so, he says, pointing out a number of writers who delivered their best work before age 40.

"There’s something very misleading about the literary culture that looks at writers in their 30s and calls them ‘budding’ or ‘promising,’ when in fact they’re peaking,” Kazuo Ishiguro told an interviewer last year. Ishiguro (54 when he said this) added that since the age of 30 he had been haunted by the realization that most of the great novels had been written by authors under 40.

That quote caught my eye because I consider Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go a "great novel," although his fans might choose earlier works by the author as his best. That book was published just a few years ago, probably around the time Ishiguro was 50.

I've also just finished Haruki Mirakami's After Dark, my first book by the author. Andrew says the author's best work is either The Wind-up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore, both of which were published (not necessarily written), if Wikipedia's dates can be believed, when the author was in his 50s and 60s, respectively.

So there are exceptions to the rule, no doubt.

I don't have anything else to add to the discussion at the moment, but would conclude by saying that, at age 39-and-a-half, I have six months left to write the Great American Novel.

Indeed, there are many exceptions to the rule. This sounds like one of those observations that can easily be proven or disproven, depending on how one cherry picks the long history of literature. As it stands, I don't buy the premise. For every writer who burns brightly and quickly flames out, there is another writer who gains maturity and does his/her best work relatively late in life. Shakespeare, anyone? Dickens? George Eliot? Dostoyevsky? Tolstoy? Victor Hugo? None of these writers was exactly a callow youth when they wrote their best/most famous plays and novels.

Edited by Andy Whitman
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I don't have anything else to add to the discussion at the moment, but would conclude by saying that, at age 39-and-a-half, I have six months left to write the Great American Novel.

And I've blown right past the deadline. :o Ah well, someone has to be the exception to the assumed rule. ;)

I like to say that I practice militant mysticism. I'm really absolutely sure of some things that I don't quite know.~~Rob Bell April/09 CT

http://whythewritingworks.com

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I turn 40 in October. So I've got 112 days to go.

Oh, wait, you're not past your prime until you're OVER 40? Okay, I've got 1 year and 112 days to go, then.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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