Thursday, February 10, 2011

Middle-aged Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

I was reading an article in the Guardian last week by Amanda Craig, which spoke very candidly to women writers with respect to the subject of age, particularly; at what age did the writers she most revered publish their breakthrough book. She responded:
"Time and again, I found that they all hit their late 40s or mid-50s before this happened. The exception seemed to be gay women. The reason why was easy to guess: if you have children, your career tends to be eclipsed for a good decade-and-a-half."
I agree and disagree with this, and I am sure my thoughts here will piss a few writers off.

First, I don't necessarily think children are always to blame for the late start of a woman's writing career, or rather, the writing career getting serious late in life. I am a childless woman, by choice, and even though I didn't lose a decade to child rearing, I lost a decade to life. I mean let's be real here, at eighteen to twenty-couple of years old, I didn't have the life experience to really write anything substantial. Most of my chicken scratchings at that time were all about sex and anarchy. I hadn't put in the time yet; the years of adult struggles were ahead of me. I hadn't been affected yet by the psychological, sociological, and political strife adults must come to grips with. At twenty-something, it was all pining, experimentation, and pissed off damn-the-man-partying-on-the-road-to-self discovery-dear-Penthouse type nonsense. The who I was would change radically many times over in the course of that decade and a half. I was learning to live, and I was learning to understand the world I inhabited on a much less superficial level than I had as a child. I couldn't write what I write the way I write it now if I had tried to do it back then, which I did, and it sucked like a sloppy sewer sump pump. All my writing then was immature, because I was immature, I didn't have the skills, and child rearing had nothing to do with it. I thought I was a woman at twenty years old, but I was wrong. I might have been a woman physically, but I was still a naive child, and that didn't change until I was in my late thirties when could look back on all the mistakes I made with some analytical perspective -- when I could also look at the creative process with some analytical perspective.

I think that's what makes a mature writer: Time In, and by that, I mean time invested in obtaining said analytical perspective. Sometimes raising a family is part of that, and sometimes it’s a career, or sometimes its time spent finding your spiritual center. Serious literature comes with serious contemplation, and I don't think that has anything to do with whether or not you are a man or a woman, or whether or not you are gay, or whether or not you have children. Yet this is where the publishing industry fails mature writers. Amanda Craig states in her article:
“Unless and until we get to the lofty eminence of our eighties and are once again deemed as interesting as Diana Athill, middle age is a period of about 30 years in which somehow, despite having a lifetime of experience to draw upon, we are somehow not worth reading.”
I do agree that young sexy writers with a mouthful of shiny teeth and overactive glands can and do sell a lot of books. In addition, I am not saying young people can't write, but I can tell you, everything I wrote when I was young was all raw emotion, anarchy, and criticism about things I really didn't understand yet. I am sure that sort of writing is captivating in its own way, all that angsty x-y-z or whatever generation we happen to have a love/hate relationship with at the moment, but it certainly isn't objective. An older more mature writer makes the conscious choice between objectivity and subjectivity. We know when our narrators are unreliable because we have deliberately made them so. The same often cannot be said of young writers, and that's simply of case of the insulation and the isolation that comes with being young. You don't know what you don't know, and you don't want anyone telling you otherwise. It's as simple as that.
Ms. Craig says, "On the whole, good and great fiction is not written by beautiful people who feel successful. It's written by the person who is most overlooked, all their life, and who understands things about the human condition which is very different from that of the experience of the 25-year-old part-time model."
So, are there young writers who fit Ms. Craig's bill of goods? I am sure there are, but that sort of critical thinking and objectivity is a rarity when it comes to young writers writing serious literary fiction. I've read a bit over the years, so I know. It's not about the technical aspects of writing, it’s about the minutia of living that makes good and great fiction.

When I was young, I wrote some hot, sexy, trashy stuff all civil disobedience and shit, and my friends were mildly amused, but today, I write stuff like this, and I am not saying it's any good, I am just saying it's very different:

A Sack of Rags and Rocks © 2011 Cheryl Anne Gardner, All Rights Reserved

I can still smell the perfume in their hair -- the scent of lavender just after a summer rain -- as it drifted to me across the ice. The lake had frozen that January, under the midnight moon, and neither a pound of gold nor the beating heart of a sleeping man could raise the dead drifting on the current just below the surface. "You might have had the one, but never both," the ugly old shrew advised through rotted teeth and needful breath as she looked at the spread of cards laid out before her, "And neither would have made you happy in the end."

She only wanted the best for me. I don't know why I expected her to understand my infatuations. She wasn't a faith healer ... she was just my mother, and she never told me the water would be so cold.

Others mileage will vary, but I would rather write the above than what I was writing in my twenties.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

The art this week is Witch by Anton Kandaurov, 1899


Sarah Ettritch said...

Not all gay women are childless, so I'll have to disagree with her reasoning.

Why do writers hit their stride when they do? There are probably as many reasons as writers.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Exactly Sarah. I know what she was trying to say about women writers bllooming later than men and getting a raw deal from the publishing industry, but her argument was flawed and biased. There are many men in the same situation. Not everyone is a writing genius at 20; in fact, most writers at that age are far from even mediocre. And to say that one demographic has an advantage over another is utter nonsense for the innacuracy of the statement alone.

Brandy HUnt said...

Speaking as a woman with a kid, the best thing I did for my writing was to become a stay at home mom. Up until then, trying to balance work and family just wasn't working. I was simply too stressed to write consistently.

Being a stay at home mom and writing are so intertwined for me, sometimes I can't write without my daughter around to bother me when the clicking of the keyboard stops :D.

DED said...

I think the writer was trying for a sweeping generalization. As a species, we like to have things neat and tidy, compartmentalized, all our ducks-in-a-row kinda thing. We put music, books, movies, etc. all into classifications we call genres. But as you know, there are plenty of people who are exceptions to the "rule," so much so that the rule isn't really a rule at all. But it helped her meet a deadline.

My experience as a stay-at-home Dad is somewhat different than Brandy's (though it certainly has been good for my writing). I can't write with the kids hanging on me, but I can get other stuff done to free up my nights for writing.

D said...

This is a great blog (and a great post!).

I think a blog with a focus on POD is pretty good, especially when you branch out in calling big publications to task like this. Love the post, love the blog!