While doing research for this post, I found this old post, which I published on Fierce and Nerdy in December 2008 about two months before I got my agent, three months before Molly Ringwald’s lawyers told me I couldn’t use my original title (Molly Ringwald Ending), and five months before I got my book deal with HarperCollins. And I thought you guys might find it of some use:
So the other day The Anonymous Smithie from My, You Really Have Put On Weight hepped her readers to this fantastic New Yorker piece written by Malcolm Gladwell, which I think every artists should read yesterday.
It’s framed by the story of Ben Fountain, a lawyer, who leaves his job to write full-time and finds literary success with a well-reviewed book of stories set in Haiti … over 18 years after he quit. The article then goes on to talk about the many, many artists who have found success later in life:
Yes, there was Orson Welles, peaking as a director at twenty-five. But then there was Alfred Hitchcock, who made “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Trouble with Harry,” “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” and “Psycho”—one of the greatest runs by a director in history—between his fifty-fourth and sixty-first birthdays. Mark Twain published “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” at forty-nine. Daniel Defoe wrote “Robinson Crusoe” at fifty-eight.
Art, contrary to popular belief, does not belong to the young. Let me say that again, because if you like me, sometimes get down about having not “made it” by now and feel yourself looking into a bleak future in which you might never fully “make it” the way you want to, you may need to hear it again.
Art does not belong to the young. You don’t have to be a genius from an early age to be a good artist. In fact, success later in life might make you a better artist. I really like Jonathan Safran Foer’s work, but I think he has a lot of trouble with writing women beautifully but not very well. At least that’s what I took away from his second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
On the opposite side of that spectrum is Junot Diaz. I read his first collection of short stories, Drown, in 1996, and could not wait to read his first novel, which everyone in the literary world seemed to be awaiting with baited breath. That novel, The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao wasn’t published until late 2007. It is an instant classic, that seems to touch everyone who reads it. Every single woman in this novel is written so beautifully and well that it is damn near heart-breaking. And I’d challenge readers to list a better-written mother-daughter relationship than the one in this book. It’s filled with such terrible love, that I suddenly did not mind having to wait over a decade for it.
The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Junot Diaz is 39, and if he wants to spend a decade on his next novel, I think he should go right on ahead.
The truth is that I live in a city where people come to make it. I’ve had so many friends leave after a few years. Some, in my opinion, did not try very hard. Some, perhaps rightfully so, got sick of dreaming and never achieving.
And there are those, of course, like me, who finally found their focus in Los Angeles. I realized about three years into my tenure here that I did not want to be a screenwriter or TV scribe as originally planned. I am not a fan of hierarchies or extreme politics and so many things about these two worlds had become increasingly off-putting to me. On the other hand, I loved playwriting, but it’s never been something that I could do well unless I was unhappy, and I’ve been very happy for a while now. So despite a terrible market I’ve chosen to quit my full-time radio writing job and pursue novel writing and DIY journalism again — my original loves, and perhaps my true callings. I know that I really love Los Angeles now, because I could do what I’m currently doing anywhere and I prefer to do it here.
Still, I often wake up in the middle of the night scared. What if Molly Ringwald Ending doesn’t get published? What if I’m not a good enough writer to pull off what’s in my head for my next novel, Supersonic? What if Fierce and Nerdy never finds the audience to justify the hours I put into it? What if I’ve been working this hard on writing projects for so many years and none of them ever, ever pan out? It’s terrifying.
But having read this Malcolm Gladwell article, a certain calm has come over me. Something in the universe whispers, “Just keep on doing the work. Don’t let the fear stop you.”
Here’s the truth. I might not make it until I’m 80, but dammit, I’ll make it as long as I’m persistant and don’t give up. And so will you.
Just keep at it.
100% Rooting for Us,