On Writing




I guess I’m too old to be a prodigy?

Or too young? I haven’t decided yet. It depends on whether my life’s goal was to be a piano virtuoso by the age of 5, or a marathon runner at 101. Either way, I’ve missed the prodigy category.

I’ve always enjoyed getting older. I hated any and all of the labels associated with young people. I hated not being able to reach some new pinnacle simply because I was too young or too short or too little or too inexperienced. I learned early on to forge my mom’s signature for all those permission slips that denied me a whole new world. [Okay, so technically I did it with her permission. Sort of? She would okay such and such, but forget to sign on the dotted line. So it was done with her blessing.]

But now? There are so many incredible stories about people who did things they shouldn’t be doing at whatever age they are. Who raps like Nicki Minaj? Not me, but apparently this eight-year-old can pull it off with the cutest British accent since these kiddos. I can barely manage the words to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. I blame Lewis Carroll.

I’m pretty sure half of my hobbies were begun in an attempt to be as good as whoever amazing I saw on YouTube. Who doesn’t want to be the next Greyson Chance, Susan Boyle, or (can’t believe I’m saying this) Justin Bieber? American Idol ended up being one big parade of people who were better at doing what I wanted to do. Even in the writing community, there can be the envy of someone publishing or making a best-seller list before turning 25. I can safely admit that, due to my own insecurities, writing has never been one of those only-doing-it-because-I-want-the-prize sort of goals. (It has also been a hobby that has been deeply hoarded to myself. It’s one thing to try to wrestle out a manageable version of some dead guy’s piano composition to the pleasure of my teacher and a room full of unknown students. It is completely different to try to share written portions of my heart with those who may critique it.)

But it’s weird now, to get older, and see the contests only available to those in high school or college or what else. I feel like I’ve never quite arrived at the age bracket where I’ll actually get the golden ticket, you know? Why didn’t an adult win a trip to the Chocolate Factory?

I’m pretty sure this entire thing stems from our innate selfishness. And yes I’m saying “we”, partly because I don’t want to be in this boat alone, and partly because you can’t deny this fact either: we always want what we can’t have.  And when we can’t have it: *poof* goes the self-assured person.

If I was writing simply for the sake of being a prodigy who was published before I was fifteen, I would be facing a lonely road devoid of fulfillment. Just because I missed a deadline. Time doesn’t stop just because we want it to. Even in our pursuit of whatever goal we have, someone beats us to it. What’s the deal with having a record if someone shatters it before you get your book deal out?

The point is that there is always someone to beat. Some record to catch, some timeline to meet,  some smiling Ronald McDonald saying that you must be this high to dive into Playland. We will never find satisfaction in trying to meet somebody else’s goal. We’ll be Proctruses, except we’ll be forcing ourselves to fit the wrong-sized frame. Quit trying to be someone else’s definition of a prodigy.  If you spend your life chasing somebody else’s dream you’re going to end up unhappy, too old to be a prodigy. You’ll be left with a handful of YouTube videos showing off your Justin Bieber hair, while your real dreams crumble on the shelf because they weren’t good enough for somebody else. You’re always going to be disappointed.

Please don’t think that I’m eschewing competitiveness or shoot-for-the-moon goals, because I’m not. But don’t try to measure up to someone else’s definition of success. It doesn’t matter if you’re 15 or 56. You have the ability to define yourself. Why on earth would you want to fit somebody else’s mold? Answer the question for yourself: what does success mean to you? Example: some people consider being a stay-at-home parent to be the ultimate job, while others will only be happy if they make it into this list.   If your goal is to get published before you are 25, great! Just don’t lose your love for writing in pursuit of making a deadline. Define yourself. And toss out the dictionary of public opinion while you’re at it.

And hey, after all is said and done, technically you can still be a prodigy. You may not be an extraordinarily talented young person, but at least you can be monstrous or abnormal.