On aging and writing and other endeavors, sigh

Jim Van Pelt has an excellent reaction to one of those not-so-lovely screeds that proclaims that after a certain age, writers are all washed up.  Not going to link to the original blog, simply because I have to wonder if it wasn’t the result of a frustrated, newish writer old enough to know better who nonetheless fell prey to the temptation of smacking the face of an old-timer to get blog hits and, therefore, attention.  The middle school teacher in me doesn’t want to reward bad behavior, in the first place, and secondly, doesn’t want to continue to highlight something that the author will later most likely regret publishing.

But even as I read both Jim’s post and the original post, I kept thinking of exceptions to the rule, including George R.R. Martin himself.  Like the original blogger, I haven’t read the books in question.  My pleading, though, is simply that I don’t have the reading energy these days to dedicate to a series of books that big.  I read the first two or three books and, while I admire the intricacy of the plot threads and all, they were just too plain big and complex for me to read until the series was finished.  Now that may change, since I’ve managed to configure the Kindle reader on both my iTouch and my Asus Transformer (I love, love, love reading on the Transformer.  While I still have a huge pile of paper books to read down, I’m rapidly switching over to e-books for my new purchases, especially either hardcovers or mass markets in the genre).  The Song of Ice and Fire series might well be a better choice for e-book rather than paper.  I rocked my way through the latest Stephen King much more comfortably than I would the hard copy, so that’s what I’m thinking.

I follow GRRM’s blog.  Put simply, what I’m reading there and the commentary he puts forth about his writing doesn’t suggest a declining mind.  Rather, it suggests that instead of pumping out tons of quickly-written, not so-well-written prose, he’s putting in a lot of effort to craft his work more precisely and in greater detail, because he can.

The aging and creativity debate isn’t a new one.  Knee-jerk response suggests that aging means decline, that brain cells stop forming in early adulthood and it’s all downhill from there.  However, recent neuroscientific findings suggest that such isn’t necessarily the case.  We’re still forming neurons and connections well into our 50s; perhaps not as many as when we were younger, but it is still happening.

And unless you are subject to specific genetic conditions, much brain deterioration is preventable, as the article linked points out.  Preventing brain deterioration doesn’t require fancy exercises or special programs.   Rather, maintaining regular habits such as exercise, eating right and minimizing stress are all factors in keeping your brain healthy and productive well into your later years.

But what about this particular blogger’s argument?  He cites examples of authors for whom he believes their best work had been completed by their mid-50s, all within the genre.  He’d be supported by some writers outside the genre, who point to Nobel Literature prize-winners like Faulkner, Hemingway or Steinbeck whose greatest works were published in their early years.  Granted, in those three cases (as well as others), often the Nobel is a culmination based on many years of production rather than a single stellar work.

Counter this blogger’s assertions with the production of writers such as Robertson Davies, who was actively creating quality work in retirement.  What about Frederik Pohl?  What about Margaret Mead, or Ursula LeGuin, or other articulate, producing writers who continue their writing contributions well into their later life?

Age is what you make of it.  And despite what someone at the threshold of middle-aged panic might think, decline is not inevitable.  With age comes perspective and understanding.

I leave you with these words from William Faulker’s Nobel acceptance speech to consider:

He (insert from me, the young writer) must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Read the whole speech.  It’s a good thought.

ETA: After reading the comments on the post, including the latest, it’s clear the writer considered getting a lot of responses as a “win.”  So, not clearly thought out….simply written to provoke comment.

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