I admit I have not done any statistical research, but it seems to me that there are many more contests, periodicals, agents and publishing companies out there looking for new young writers than new old writers. I’ve heard it said that by hitching their wagon to a talented writer under 30, those in the writing business are gambling on a long-term output of books. It’s a numbers game: the more books, the more chance that at least one or two might attain some level of ‘success.’
I don’t like it, but I guess I can’t really blame them. We’re all wondering what’s happening to the world of books and publishing. Very few literary magazines now pay for poems or short stories. Though novel writers give away years of their life crafting a book with no guarantee of publication at the end, I fear that one day we might be asked to publish our work with no chance of a return. Since I’m an older writer, I’m grateful that I probably won’t be around when that day arrives.
That’s not to say that I don’t want to live as long as I can. Of course I do. And like most of us, I know this means I must eat a balanced diet and try to get some exercise every day. But here’s something I didn’t know: creative pursuits can lengthen our lives.
Yesterday, while I was pedaling away on a stationary bicycle at the gym, I read an article in the September 23, 2013 issue of Time on the “Art of Living.” According to recent findings, those who engage in an enjoyable creative activity have a greater chance of adding years to their lives than those who are bored and disengaged. Using our brains helps to keep us young—though not in every function. As we age, we do experience a decline in our “fluid intelligence.” According to the article, older people are likely to see a decrease in “working memory, computing speed, [and] the ability to hold multiple ideas in the mind at once.” But here’s the good news: our brains learn to compensate. We learn how to reorganize—older folks are more able to jump tracks to get both sides of the brain to work together. This change in how our brains function offers great benefits for the writer.
Here’s more from the Time article: “Take the metaphor—one of the writer’s prettier devices and one of the brain’s niftier tricks. Language conveys meaning, but if you want to give it particular resonance, it helps to attach a picture to the words. So the left brain has to reach into the right for help—the poet borrowing one of the painter’s brushes. That’s not easy to do—which is why not everyone can be a poet—but when the walls between the hemispheres get lower, the job gets easier.”
I don’t want to discourage any young writer from pursuing poetry or fiction or creative nonfiction—by all means keep writing! But I would like to see more buzz out there regarding the search for older ‘emerging’ writers. In comparison to our younger counterparts, we geezers may not have as many years ahead of us to pump out work. But please remember this: our brains may be far more adept at putting all our skills to work as we strive to create the next great masterpiece.