Liz’s News of the Books

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The Age of Ageism

Is this just a thing that the British do? Make incredibly dismissive, overarching generalizations about writing to piss off a certain segment of the literary population? (I have no idea why.To increase hits on their website? Because someone’s got to argue about writing, and since there are apparently only 20 literary arguments under the sun to go along with the 20 plots, they have to keep trying new variations on them?)

About a month ago, it was childless women writers. Now, Robert McCrum, himself no spring chicken, says that literary masterpieces are best accomplished by those under 40. He grants a few “exceptions” here and there—Dostevsky, for one, but otherwise just continues to make a blanket statement: that old age is bad for a writing career.

I can agree with McCrum when he says new voices make a splash. To some degree, a new writer whose first books takes the world by storm has a tough time following up that first effort. And if you’re young, it’s easier to make your mark in any profession.

Yet with the rise of MFA programs, who often require a manuscript as their thesis, the average first-time writer is suddenly a lot older. As a recent B.A graduate, I was advised, and thought it good advice, to not jump straight into grad school. Learn more about life first; have something to write about. Granted, not many MFAs are getting book deals. But even if the trend of the hot young writer holds some water, it may not be possible anymore. People live longer, pack in 2-3 careers in a life. They’re bound to have learned something interesting and have picked up some good stories. And the more you read, often, the better you write. Advancing age shouldn’t dull your writing skills, unless you’ve started to suffer cognitive impairment.

Beyond the Margins, that excellent literary blog, posted a long refutation of McCrum to which I have nothing more to add. In the meantime, let’s take bets on who the British lit crits will insult next. Gay writers who write hetero sex scenes? Writers who have small dogs who can chew up manuscripts? We’ll keep you posted.~Liz

This post originally appeared on Books on the Make.

Editor’s Note: Liz Baudler recently graduated from Columbia College with a Fiction Writing degree. She founded and used to edit The Toucan Literary Magazine. Now, she just contents herself with editing one publication, Transcendent Journeys. When she’s not glued to a computer researching literary controversies or reading books and chuckling, she likes to ride her bike, cook, and make money talking about animals at Brookfield Zoo.

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