Over the years I've seen a lot of writers (editors, publishers, whoever) make statements which imply that there's some sort of deadline for starting a writing career, as though creativity has an expiration date and if you don't use it by then it goes bad. A recent blog comment made me think about this, but the idea has been around for a long time -- I've read similar opinions on other blogs, on journals and forums, in books and magazines, and on BBSs in the pre-web days. It's one of those things everyone just knows, or accepts.
But... seriously? The context is usually some sort of conversation between a writer and a non-writer, where the non-writer says something like, "You know I've always wanted to write a book." The writer thinks (or occasionally says out loud) something like, "No, you don't. If you really did then you'd have done it."
Or maybe it's, "I always wanted to write," and "No you don't, or you'd be writing." Something like that.
Or a comment about how if you're capable of not writing for any period of time, then you're clearly not a writer and you'd be better off going back to your triple-entry accounting or whatever it is you've been doing with your life all along.
I've always felt uncomfortable about these statements, though. For one thing, it's pretty obvious that stepping up to say, "Well, I don't write all the time -- I've gone weeks or months or even years without writing any fiction in the past," will bring about the obvious retort, "Well, you're not a real writer, then. Nyah!" which makes the whole thing sound more like the tauntings of a junior high clique in a lunchroom rather than an actual discussion among adults.
Aside from that, though, there's also the familiar trap of assuming that everyone is the same. It's great that some people hit the ground running -- one of my fellow Torquere authors isn't old enough to drink (or maybe just turned twenty-one?) and has nine stories published already. That's awesome, seriously. But George Eliot started at thirty-six -- what if someone had told her, at thirty or thirty-five, that if she were "really" a writer she'd have done it already, and that therefore she should go back to her knitting? Janet Evanovich's first novel came out when she was in her fifties. Laura Ingalls Wilder's first novel came out when she was in her sixties. Watership Down, Richard Adams's first novel, came out in his fifties.
Some people have other things going on in their lives. Is someone disqualified as a writer because, after having a long career at something else, they turn to writing in their retirement? Does that not count? My own first thought is that someone who's lived a full life probably has a lot to write about.
Or maybe someone has confidence problems and can't quite manage to apply seat of pants to seat of chair in front of a keyboard for a year or three or thirty. Dude's got issues? Maybe so. But maybe living with, working through and resolving those issues will give the older writer -- again -- something worth writing about.
How about the idea that you have to write every day? If you can do it then that's great, and it's tough to support yourself solely through your writing unless you do produce daily. Not everyone can, though, for a variety of reasons. So what? If the writer who bangs out words for two hours a day sneers at the writer who only puts in two hours a week over the weekends, what about the writer who puts in eight hours a day? If a 2/day writer thinks a 2/week writer sucks, does the existence of the 8/day writer mean the 2/day writer sucks?
Different people are different, and fiction writers of all people should know that. It's easy to get caught up in a bit of rah-rah-for-us when we're together with other writers, to talk about what it's actually like to be a working writer versus what the general public thinks it's like, to swap war stories about short sleep and insane deadlines and taking a jackhammer to that writer's block, and brag about how anyone who can't hack brutally honest criticism had better not quit their day job. All that's true, and certainly anyone who wants to have a prayer of being a full-time writer had better be able to hunker down and do the work and produce quantity and quality both, and not break down at a less-than-diplomatic rejection or review.
That's not the only way to be a writer, though, and in the middle of all the bragging and snarking and one-upmanship and war stories, it's easy to forget that the person who has a poem published in a magazine qualifies as a writer too, just as much as the person with a shelf full of novels. And someone else who delays (procrastinates, lazes, dithers) and doesn't even start tapping out their first tentative manuscript until after the social security checks start coming is also a writer.
Someone who says, "I've always wanted to try writing," might not be a writer right now. They might never actually be a writer. But then again, they might, some day, and it doesn't diminish any of us to acknowledge the potential.