by Savannah J. Foley
18 is nice, but in the United States, 21 marks the age when you’re really considered a grown-up. When you’re 21 you can go anywhere uninhibited, and your driver’s license transforms into a free pass to all those ‘adult’ places you’ve never been before.
For me, 21 also marks the end of an era. It splices my life in two; the time before and after technical adulthood. Am I still a relatively young writer? Yes. But at 21 I feel as if I’ve moved beyond the age where my accomplishments are impressive.
When I was younger I swore I would be published while I was still a teenager. To me, attaining that goal would prove something about me; that I was more talented, smarter, better prepared, and most importantly, a better writer than those older than me.
I’d always been on the forefront of accomplishments for my age group: I walked at 9 months old, spoke in complete sentences before age 2, and finished my first book at sixteen. I had a worshipful following on Fictionpress. In school I was always taller, faster, sharper, and got better grades on my essays than most everyone around me. It was only natural that I would get an agent and be published before 20.
I am now ashamed of this arrogance. My self-worth was defined by my accomplishments, not my kindness, compassion, or loyalty. My arrogance blinded me, and I did not realize that my manuscript was barely ready for an agent. In my ignorance I didn’t know that publishing takes years of hard work and endurance. When I finally signed with my agent at 19 I was forced to confront the fact that I would NOT be published before 20. I would not be a prodigy teen writer.
When I tell people how old I am, they are always amazed, because I appear so much older. I have a great job as an HR Manager, I own a house, I have an agent, and until recently I was engaged to be married. I used my age as a tool to instantly make people impressed, to make me feel good about myself. But I feel that as I get older this tool becomes less effective. One day I’ll be just another grown woman with a list of accomplishments under her belt, no different from anyone else.
As I got closer to my birthday I had to confront the fact that soon it wouldn’t be good enough that I’ve merely written 5 novels. I’ll have to have written 5 GREAT novels. I’ll have to prove that I’m an excellent reviser, that I can work on deadline, that I can appeal to the masses and successfully promote my books. And my age won’t have a thing to do with all that.
Am I a good friend? Am I a good girlfriend/fiancé/wife? Do I do the right thing, even though it’s hard? Do I work even though I want to be lazy? Do I keep a positive outlook even though I want to curl into a ball and despair?
These are the things that are important now, not a list of checkmarks with an age attached to it. Quality, not quantity, is what I need to be concerned with.
Being here at Let The Words Flow has taught me so much about publishing and writing, but it’s also taught me something more important than facts and technique: humility. In this group, I’m not the only one who started writing young. I’m not the first to get an agent, or a publishing deal. And in the face of losing the trinkets I clutched to me to prove my worth, I had to realize the truth: I am valuable for more than my ‘accomplishments’ at my young age. I am valuable as a person, and a friend; for what is inside my heart and not always what I do with my hands.
LTWF has also taught me that we all have different stages of ‘ready.’ Some people are ready at 16 to be published. Some people at 20, others at 40, and still others at 80. Life works out when it’s right for you, and age doesn’t have any effect on your value.
I’ve learned so much, and I know that there is so much more to discover. I will only get better with time. 21 does not represent a closed door, but just another milestone. And today I’m going to celebrate making it this far, and be glad to enter into a world where finally everything is possible. The journey has only just begun.
Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.