I’ve been hemming and hawing over this topic for about a year now. I almost didn’t blog about it because I’m guessing it’s going to offend a few writers. So let me just say now that offending is not my intention. I’m just making some observations. Anyway...
I’ve written a few times before about writing what you know, as well as writing what you don’t know. Now I want to take that one step further and talk about how that ties in with experience.
When I was in college, I had an amazing creative writing professor. In fact, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be writing today because he pushed me hard to keep writing (he knew my major was math, not English), and he pushed me to be the best writer I could possibly be.
While I was taking his classes, he said two things that I didn’t understand at the time. I also completely disagreed with him.
He said: “There is no such thing as a prodigy writer.”
Basically, he explained that when you see a movie with a ten year old kid who can write award-winning poetry or novels, that’s not possible. The reason is that writing comes from experience, as well as the understanding of that experience. If you’re ten years old, there’s a limited amount of things you’ve experienced. Even if you’ve seen a lot in those ten years, there’s still a limited ability to understand those experiences because you have a limited amount of things to compare it to. So, that ten year old writer may well be a prodigy, but that won’t be apparent until he’s closer to thirty years old.
I sort of understood what he was saying, but I didn’t completely agree.
Then, he said this: “Give yourself ten years, and then you’ll be a great writer.”
This one hurt a bit, partly because it was directed at me (it wasn’t a general statement about people). I was eighteen when he told me this, and I thought I was a pretty good writer already. Sure, there was still plenty to learn, but I didn’t see how ten years was going to magically turn me into a great writer. Plus, when you’re eighteen, ten years is a long time and I didn’t want to wait that long. :)
Now that those ten years have come and gone, I’m beginning to understand what he was saying. And I have to admit that he was right. Does that mean all young writers can’t write well? Absolutely not. But it does mean that a young writer can’t write a many-layered, timeless classic. And I’ve finally found the perfect example to illustrate this.
Earlier this year, I read the book Break by Hannah Moskowitz. She wrote it when she was sixteen (I think), and WOW can this girl write! Her teen characters are so vivid and real, and their motivations and choices exactly fit a teen’s mind. If she wrote a book that contained nothing but teens, I have no doubt that it would be amazing.
But the world doesn’t contain only teens. It has adults, too, and that’s where Moskowitz’s work is flawed. When I was a teenager, I remember not understanding my parents’ motivations for most things. They were the gatekeepers of what I could and couldn’t do, and their reasons for not letting me do certain things didn’t make sense. That’s how the adults are in Break. Their actions don’t make sense, and those actions are not things that responsible adults would do. But that’s how teenagers see adults. Since Moskowitz was a teenager when she wrote the story, that’s how she wrote her adults.
That doesn’t make her a bad writer, though. Moskowitz is obviously observant and insightful, and is only limited by her own experience. She’s about as close to a prodigy as you can get. :) It's only a matter of time before her adult characters are leaping off the page. I look forward to her future books, and I have no doubt that they will win some awards. To quote my professor, ‘in about ten years.’ :)