So What’s a Young Writer, Anyway?

Scott William Carter   January 17, 2008  

There’s some great things brewing on the publishing front.  Nothing I can announce officially yet, but it’s looking very good, so hopefully a Big Announcement will be coming soon.  

When it comes to the actual writing, still working on the Latest Novel, progress is slow but steady (I’m in that dreaded muddle in the middle), and I wish I could talk about this one because I’m very excited about its potential.  Alas, I’ve learned the hard way that I’m one of those writers whose enthusiasm can be easily dampened by early criticism, especially when an idea is still in the molding and shaping stage, so it’s best just to finish the thing and then talk about it.  Once it’s on paper, I’m fine with getting feedback, and in fact find it quite helpful, but then I’ve got something finished and I’ve (at least partially) divested myself emotionally from it. 

On another topic, somebody the other day referred to me as “young writer,” as in, “this young writer here has had some great success so far.”  Now I suppose, in a pure chronolocial sense, you could refer to a 34-year-old as young, but I think I’m getting dangerously close to the point where that adjective can no longer apply.  To me, a young writer would a teenager, maybe, or somebody in their early twenties.  But I guess that’s the point, isn’t it?  It’s all relative. 

Except, when it comes to writing, the term young writer means something quite different.  When people in publishing refer to someone as young, they generally mean new, as in new to the scene of publishing.  And that’s fair enough — except why not just say new?  Well, perhaps because calling someone a new writer implies that they haven’t been writing long, when in fact most writers toil in unpublished anonymity for many years before any of their words see print.  And that’s exactly how I’ve heard that term used — to describe people who are just now getting serious about the craft.  

Of course, I do think there comes a point when a newly published author can’t be referred to as young, no matter the meaning.  I’m trying to imagine a 90-year-old first time novelist being called “a young writer” and I doubt it would fly.  It’s really quite fascinating.  If I was a professional basketball player, at 34 I’d be considered a creaky veteran nearing retirement.  I’d also probably be insanely rich.  This is besides the point, but I felt it worth saying.   

No real point to any of this except the obvious:  words can mean different things depending on the context, and that’s always interesting to a writer.  Even when they refer to the writer himself.   

Recommended Reading:  

Every now and then I’ll pick up a book on writing.  There’s hundreds of them out there, many of them written by writers who’ve really had very little success in publishing, so I do think a serious writer should be careful and err toward how-to books written by writers who’ve either been bestsellers or at least made a good solid living at their craft.  Lawrence Block is one such writer, and I just finished his Spider, Spin Me a Web:  A Handbook for Fiction Writers

It’s a collection of many of his best columns from when he was writing regularly for Writer’s Digest magazine, and it’s a fantastic read.  It’s not so much about the nuts and bolts of the craft, though there’s plenty sprinkled throughout; it reads more like a Dear Abby column, covering a little of this and a little of that, Block going wherever his whim takes him.  This may not sound good, but in the end it’s a book that seems to fill in all missing links that other writers miss in more structured books. 

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