Youth Vs Experience: The Age-Old Argument

A post from Mark Porter. Watch for his new novel “Dogs Chase Cars” early in 2011!

Having just discovered the thrill of Kindle ownership (within the last two days), I became drawn to the story of Laura Maylene Walter, who wrote an article Why We Write for the 1st November edition of The Literary Life. Laura enjoyed enormous success as a twenty-two year-old when her first novel won the Sophie Kerr Prize (Washington College) and the accompanying $61,000 award.

Laura goes on to tell how the pressure of expectation and lack of experience in her writing meant that her confidence gradually eroded and she was left with the task of stripping back her writing to bare bones, analysing honestly and re-building—not for publication or recognition but simply for the love of the craft; writing for writings’ sake.

My own experience mirrors this in all factors but success! I completed my own first novel, Sensible Shoes, when I was twenty-three. I sent it off and waited for the bidding war. It never came. Rejection came. Then doubt. Then a gradual realisation that I just didn’t cut it. The problem for me was two-fold: the writing was not up to it and I was hopelessly out of my depth attempting to convey life experience at a stage in my own life when I had still to accrue any. I tried to be too clever, too verbose and the resulting impression was one of arrogance. For every David Foster Wallace there are countless examples of the initial flame of enthusiasm having been extinguished by the great leveller of reality. It is hard to take. I crawled away into a dark place of self admittance and vowed to show my writing to nobody (the odd drunk excepted) again. I continued to dabble and to practice and to experiment with various forms. I attended a creative writing class, something that I have massively mixed opinions of, and I tried again. This time, I am in my thirties and have not been left unaffected by life’s usual trials and traumas, broken relationships, bereavements and, regrettably, divorce. I know I am far from complete as a writer and I accept that as half the fun. Andrew Oberg here at Drugstore Books has shown patience and loyalty in helping me hammer Dogs Chase Cars into shape. I hope the learning curve continues, I hope I am markedly better next time out. I also recognise that there comes a point where ability and originality of ideas must inevitably plateau and I will have an idea of my true worth as a writer.

How has it been for you? A long and lonely road or a shooting star ascension to greatness? For us mortals, I’m willing to bet that most of us fall into the former category.

In the meantime, and because I am a sucker for happy endings, Laura Maylene Walter did re-build. This year she won the G.S. Sharat Chandra prize for short fiction with Living Arrangements. The collection of shorts will be published in 2011, along with her third novel.

Next week, Paul j Rogers looks at work ethic, Dostoevsky and other unconnected themes.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Andrew
    Posted December 10, 2010 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks very much for the compliment Mark, though I’m not sure how deserved it is.

    One thing I’d add is that just the experience of writing a novel can be a wonderful learning tool. I’ve got a practice one tucked away too, and hope that the process of writing it has benefited my later work in the ways I think it has. Guess that’s always up to our readers though, really.

  2. Posted December 11, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the mention and for sharing your story. While I’ve had a really great year as far as my writing goes, I still feel like I am on a very long and lonely path…even some success can’t take away from the struggle of being a writer. Also, just to clarify, my novel isn’t contracted to be published…I am still slowly losing my mind in the revision process on that one. :)

  3. Posted December 12, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I’ve found that nothing is ever wasted. I have various half devloped ideas and partially written shorts etc littering my hard drive and writing pads. Quite often an idea needs time to go away and come back again. I’ve also found that some ideas come back in a different form.

    I agree though, it is all practice. Practice is never wasted, either as an experiment, or as a means unto itself.

  4. Posted December 13, 2010 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Laura, thank you for your reply to the blog. That was a nice surprise! Your story is an inspirational one. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to take your ego away and re-build again. This is especially true if your first work attracted such attention. I’m glad you kept going.

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