Forbes published its annual “30 under 30” list, mere days after the 2017 National Book Awards hosted its annual “5 Under 35” celebration. So it’s safe to say that this week has generated a perfect storm of ANXIETY from prospective writers and artists who feel like they’re already aging out of relevance.
You’re not, though—none of us are. Here’s the proof:
Sure, George R. R. Martin sold his first short story at the age of 21…but: His first novel still didn’t come out until 8 years after that. And A Game of Thrones, his seminal work, didn’t appear until he was in his late 40s. Robert Jordan’s first novel came out in his early 30s, but The Wheel of Time didn’t emerge until a decade after that (An interesting sidenote that we tend to forget and re-remember a lot: Martin and Jordan were born within one month of each other!) Ursula K. Le Guin started in her mid-30s. Still feeling skeptical? J. R. R. Tolkien published The Hobbit in his early 40s. The Lord of the Rings published when he was in his 60s.
It’s no different today. Patrick Rothfuss? First novel at 33. Brandon Sanderson? Finished the The Wheel of Time and The Way of Kings well into his 30s. Neil Gaiman? Finished Sandman in his mid-30s. Jacqueline Carey? Kushiel’s Dart came out when she was 36. N.K. Jemisin was 38 when The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was published.
Okay, but those are epic fantasies (or just epics in Gaiman’s case) and they take a while to assemble. What about sci-fi?
John Scalzi’s first novel came out when he was 36. Ann Leckie’s first novel was published when she was 47. Cory Doctorow’s first novel hit when he was 32. Ender’s Game published when Orson Scott Card was 33. You can go back further to find Asimov’s first novel arriving as he crests the age of 30. His fellow Futurian Frederik Pohl started publishing novels in his late 30s.
Writers and artists: You have time. Hell, we can even leave the sci-fi/fantasy book industry altogether to find more proof of this. Lin-Manuel Miranda won his first Tony Award in his late 20s, but to get Hamilton we had to wait until Miranda was in his mid-30s.
The idea that you have to publish a seminal work in your 20s has always been bull. Which is why it was so heartening to see Tor.com Publishing author Cassandra Khaw push back at the trend on Twitter recently:
She went on to discuss the problem of the wunderkind, and the narrowness of lists like Forbes’, which necessarily have to focus on young people who have had enough opportunity (and often, lets face it, money) to achieve success early in life.
Bob Proehl, author of A Hundred Thousand Worlds, replied:
And Sunny Moraine, author of the haunting short story “eyes I dare not meet in dreams,” chimed in:
They’re not the only ones! You can read the whole thread here.
Clearly different writers find success at different times, no matter how you cherry-pick the data. However, there is ONE important thing that every successful writer does, regardless of their age. Writers…are you ready? This is the actual secret behind getting published:
They all kept writing.
It is NaNoWriMo EVERY Mo. Martin wrote stories and scripts and still does so in-between his huge novels. Asimov and Pohl wrote short fiction relentlessly, building up to novel lengths. Tolkien built his legendarium and worked on translations and taught. Jordan’s works were in the double digits before The Wheel of Time even began. And Sanderson, as we know, is a tsunami of story. Even folks who you’re just hearing about now: like Cassandra Khaw or Sunny Moraine or Nnedi Okorafor or Seanan McGuire or or or…they all share the same important quality: They keep writing.
So, prospective writers, artists, and creators: Don’t worry about time. Just keep going. If you do that, odds are that Tor.com will be writing about you someday.