Old Man, Look at my Life

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(Image Credit)

I’m getting old. One year into my fourth decade on planet Earth, my progress report will read that what they say about aging is entirely accurate. Physically, at 31, I can feel differences in my body from where I was even just a few years ago. I’m about the age now when professional athletes begin to decline. I’m certainly no athlete, and I’m actually in better physical shape now than I was at any point in my twenties, so it’s been harder to notice for me. But it’s still been noticeable in certain subtle ways – muscles taking longer to recover after some strenuous activity, waking up with the occasional odd mysterious ache. I have a pretty good long term memory, so it’s even stranger when I reflect on it in the long term. I remember parts of childhood so clearly that it’s odd bordering on surreal to look in the mirror and see a grown man with a receding hairline and full beard and smile wrinkles.

It’s also true that the inverse process occurs with the mind. It’s trite to even say it, but I don’t care now about a lot of really stupid bullshit that I used to care about. Maybe at 41 I’ll reflect on how stupid I was at 31, but I don’t think so.

More importantly to my career aspirations and life’s passions, writing fiction is much easier than it ever was in my younger days. I’ve done it almost obsessively since I was a small child but for most of that time I’ve been beholden to inspiration, to the point that I would spend months at a time a slave to writer’s block. Even when I had a flow going, back then it was still a struggle finding the words to put to page. I look back now at things I wrote as recently as age 25, and I’m equal parts amused and embarrassed of their badness. At the time, of course, I thought it was good solid work. Maybe not necessarily publishable, but on the cusp.

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(Hunter Thompson. Image Credit)

Only recently have I written anything I’d consider worthy of public consumption. More importantly, writing has ceased to be such a struggle. Good writing is, of course, an extraordinarily difficult process for the masters of this craft, let alone for one of my humble talents. That’s not what I mean. What I’m talking about is the simple act of it is no longer as intellectually exhausting and “dependent upon the muse” as it was when I was younger. I hesitate even to write it, lest I enrage the writing gods and they inflict upon me a great wall-sized writer’s block as karma, but what talent I have, I am now generally able to call upon at will. I can’t remember the last time I was truly writer’s-blocked. Any day I have a few hours’ free time not otherwise engaged, I usually write in the neighborhood of at least 500-1000 words. As to their quality, I make no claims. That’s for others to decide anyway. But the quantity, when I have time, is by far more consistent than it has been at any other point in my life.

I assume this owes something to simple practice. I have wanted to write as a profession off-and-on since childhood, and consistently since early in high school. Since high school I have been fairly consistent in at least trying to write, even if at times the quantity (and certainly the quality) was lacking. They say to master anything you must put in 10,000 hours of practice at it. I am certainly no literary master, but I’d guess I’ve put in my 10,000 hours and then some. All the time I’ve spent practicing came to fruition pretty suddenly. I expect that’s more common than I’d previously realized, practice hours reaching critical mass and suddenly some task feels ten times easier than it was yesterday.

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(Venerable Bede. Image Credit)

Back when writing was a plod through mud, I scarcely understood what writers meant when they spoke of being “in the zone,” a trance-like state where everything but the page fades away and the muse is whispering in your ear and the piece seems to write itself. You switch easily between character’s voices, instinctively intuiting their next response based on their motivations and their worldview. I could count on one hand the number of times I enjoyed that experience before my quarter-century mark. Now it happens so frequently it’s the state of mind in which I find myself more often than not when working. Even when not at the computer and off doing other things, I’ll find myself whispering to myself, or halfway disappearing into a fugue state because I’m working on a scene or a piece of description or dialogue while engaged in some other activity. (This will occasionally annoy friends and loved ones, but it’s probably a bit much to expect non-writers to understand and fully appreciate a writer’s process.)

Again, good writing is never easy. Anyone who’d claim otherwise is arrogant, ignorant, or arrogant and ignorant. But it was a pleasant byproduct of getting older that writing itself can become easier with time and practice. I can readily accept the continued slow physical deterioration of aging, if its accompanied by a continued progression of improvement as a writer. That strikes me as a fair trade-off.

(Title homage)

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~ by kroveechernila on December 13, 2012.

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