First of all, there is no correct answer to this question. You can be twelve when you decide to be a writer or you can be eighty-two.
A very young person, say of thirteen, is usually no more a writer than the man in the moon. BUT the thirteen-year-old can be a writer-to-be.
I was thirteen when I knew for certain that I wanted to be a writer. I have my little plastic blue diary, the kind that used to have a key for locking it, to prove it. On one page of the diary is a single sentence. "I want to grow up to be a writer."
I cannot now remember what precipitated that entry or why I decided that writing was going to be the life for me. Yet there it is as testament to a dream deep in a young girl's mind.
By the time I was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen I was writing short stories. Not good short stories, but then I didn't really expect them to be good. I always knew that becoming a published fiction writer would take some work. Quite a lot of work. And, of course, I was right. I didn't expect the first stories I ever wrote would be especially good. What I did know was if I kept at it I would eventually reach my goal of being a writer, a published writer, maybe even a respected writer, and I would spend my entire life doing it.
Off to college, I majored in English, believing it was the only path to my future career. It's true that choice helped a bit, but some of the courses in college that probably helped even more were philosophy, history, sociology, even art. And one day I realized that it wasn't the education or the courses, the major or the grades that would make me into a writer. Mainly it was going to be the people I met, the life I led, and the understanding I was able to master about the human condition. Certainly it takes a good, solid education in the English language in order to write well. But to write something interesting and compelling? It took much more than learning where to put a comma or what verb tense to use.
It would not have mattered if I had decided to be a writer when I was thirteen, or after college in my twenties, or in my mid or later years. What helped me, however, was that I was focused and dedicated so early on. I had all those years to get to where I wanted to go. Not that a successful writing career can't be created at any age, I believe it can. But I just had so many more years to concentrate on it. The stories got better, the novels became stronger and more unique to my voice, the ambition grew and helped me persevere, and finally, at age thirty-four, I sold my first novel to a major publishing company. It's possible I would have published earlier had I not combined marriage and children in the mix. But that brings us back to what I said about what it takes to be a writer. For me life wasn't going to be separated from the work. I meant to live the life and do the work at the same time. If you don't live and experience life, there is not much to write about. I wanted the marriage, the love, the children, and I didn't intend to put that part of life off to chase my dream. My dream had to come along with me, as it had since the age of thirteen.
If you are in your later years, my life's pattern may seem discouraging to those of you hoping for a writing career. Please don't let it. You've lived the life, you have material. That's more than I had to start with. I believe in all possibilities and I know there is always hope for the creative mind, no matter how old it is. Age is only a number. It means nothing unless you let it.
If you are young, you may be encouraged by knowing how young I was when I knew what I would be. If you are a young person, then I suggest you spend every year going forward working toward the goal of writing. Every class you take, every book you read, every conversation you hear is a chance to pay attention and learn. You have years, but you have to know how to fill them well.
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