The solo act.

Hello and welcome, reader.

As ever, it’s my pleasure to have you join me.

This month, instead of sharing a narrative work with you, I’ve returned to the essay format. For the students or writers in the crowd, limiting the use of adverbs and adjectives improves the clarity and reading ease of prose while favoring the active voice. Also, to best show the salty turns of my pretzel logic, I’ll use a long form of the expository technique.

After all, in a world filled with troubles, some of them even real, why limit oneself to a schoolboy’s five paragraphs?

I’ll enforce the usual constraints on length, too, so don’t panic. Time is all we have, and taking as little of yours to say what I need to remains job one, here. Recall, as well, how these notes are to be laughed at over a cup of coffee, not used as the basis for argument.

However, because the world is a hyper-sensitive place, here’s another qualifier. I know ageism comes in many forms, is a severe problem worldwide, and like prejudice of all types, harms each of us. Despite knowing this, the terms of my essay don’t reflect it. So, for those not ready to lighten up, the time to leave is now.

Anyway, I believe life is a choice, and while there are countless divides over which a man could waste a few words of his daily writing practice, who am I to go against the wind? So, without apology to those with other axes to grind, I’m tackling the concept of ageism in the writing business this month.

Here we go.

I’ve said many times before, here and elsewhere, how I believe writing is a solo act. Despite adhering to said belief, I often attend a webinar series hosted by the Writers’ Guild of Alberta that looks at the business of writing.

Need I tell you they’re free and included with the membership?

A couple of months back, the webinar topic was ageism, which inspired today’s essay. I must assure you I mean neither insult nor harm to either the panel or the WGA for hosting such an interesting and enlightening event. In fact, I’ve since attended another of them.

I plan to sit in on more of them in the future, too, unless today’s essay results in my being drummed out of the Guild. What I can’t say is whether future topics will inspire me to write so absurd a response.

Anyway, my essay’s premise is quite simple. I suggest that most writers, me included, and much like most people, have little to say worth reading when either young or old. Which renders the so-called problem of ageism in writing moot. For, in truth, all is vanity. At least, I’ve been told a fellow once said something mighty close to that.

To lend comic support to my absurd argument, I’ll use the comparison technique. I will first define the concept before setting its terms in my essay. Then, I’ll review where it’s been and where it could go with a quick look at my ‘old versus new’ experience of ageism in writing, its supposed effect on both trad and indie publishing, and the degree to which literary history repeats. I’ll close with a few words for those sure to be fighting about it long after I’m gone; tomorrow’s readers and writers.

When thinking about the concept of ageism, one must first accept the role of nature in the survival of our species. For at birth, like most mammals, people are helpless. And without nature’s version of ageism making the old teach the young, the game of evolution, and us, too, would soon end.

So, without some type of ageism, neither you nor I would be here talking about it.

Now, perhaps because an egghead only made up the word in 1969, I found several definitions of ageism, too. For today’s essay, I used the web’s most popular online info source. Here’s what it says.

Ageism is a bias against, discrimination towards, or bullying of individuals and groups based on their age, either younger or older.

I don’t mind telling you that, to me, the word’s suggested meaning is so broad as to render it near meaningless. But has the concept of ageism in writing changed over time? Or has the business evolved to a point where it no longer serves a postmodern need? I offer the following examples from my writing career in reply to these questions.

Like many old writers, I started writing when I was quite young. Not long after that, like plenty of neophytes I then knew, I spent too much time bitching about old writers who took all the work that paid. Instead of writing, I mean. The same old goats were the only ones getting published, too. Or so it looked to me. The rebel without a clue, a smart mouthed high school poet, ruined by getting published at seventeen. I couldn’t imagine how a bunch of old farts would have anything to say that was worth reading.

For among the countless things about which I then knew nothing, is the fact that most writers get published later in life. Note I said most, not all. Here in Canada, the latest reports claim the average age for a writer publishing a first novel is forty-seven. My first one published after I turned fifty-four.

Another fact worth noting is that while we’re young for what amounts to a moment in our lives, we’re old for the rest of it. I don’t know, and thus can’t say, but that could be why there are more outfits devoted to serving the needs of the elderly than the young, too.

Despite their best efforts, the problem of ageism, according to educated sources worldwide, grows ever more severe. The latest word is the publishing careers of writers young and old are under serious threat from some form of it. Because, nowadays, the criteria for success make one thing clear; most of today’s writers are either far too young or too damned old.

Of course, when looking at ageism and writing, one must consider the role of history. So, too, must one examine the topics of sales, marketing, and filthy lucre. Because, like all industries, the one built around writing must earn a profit to survive. Though nowadays, among writers in our country, such talk often gets framed in terms of the hardships of securing grant funding.

Up here, one isn’t long in the racket before hearing talk about the difficulty of accessing the now ubiquitous grant culture. Which is about par for the course, in the arts world, today, as it turns out. I’m not sure, but in some corners the idea seems to be that anyone claiming to be a writer should get taxpayer support, if a committee of their peers okays it.

Likewise, nowadays, one hears little about the nepotism and cronyism that runs through the publishing universe. That’s because, like all rackets turned institutions, much of it is based on who one knows. And, when doing such business, it’s best to be careful who one criticizes. Color me careless, I guess.

So, divide-and-conquer rules. As it does with most of our twenty-first century rackets. Because today’s writers must also survive in the gig based world run by algorithm. Thus many of them, much like those on the recent panel, instead choose to damn the unwanted challenge, slam the editing quality, and curse the lower barrier to entry of indie publishing. And, you know, like a tall fellow once said, a house divided against itself, and all that.

Anyway, being old, when I hear such talk, I recognize it for what it is: fear, envy, and blame. For indie writers, that is, who by daring to go their own way, somehow make all so-called trad publishing dreams harder to achieve. Despite the grant funding, I mean. And did I tell you the Guild is also at least ninety percent funded the same way? Now, if that’s not irony, I don’t know what is.

Lucky for me, I get that it’s not only easier to deride groups without the power to protect their interests, but safer than calling out those whose favor one curries. I know, too, that hoping writers would uphold a higher standard of integrity and fair play than usual to either the times or their industry was foolish on my part. Oh, well, my bad, not theirs, and it’s a solo practice, after all.

Sadly, a writer without the benefit of old age might know none of that. But I’m not sure ageism accounts for it, either.

Besides, the facts tell us self-publishing is how the business of writing began. Their authors published the first books not about science or religion. The publishing industry evolved from those humble roots into what it was, is, or might one day be. And like all capitalist rackets, its first concern is profit. It cares little for either writing or writers.

So, for writers of either today or tomorrow, maybe it’s worth keeping this in mind; history repeats. Beyond that, the terms of this gig are plain; think for yourself, don’t run with the mob, and no whining. Oh, and accept that some things, like competing for your place, are inherent to nature, the process of evolution, and the business of writing.

But it’s also wise to beware from whom you take your advice, too. Because this type of thinking, the independent kind, comes without grant funding. And not much profit either, so far.

What can I say? I’ve only ever done these things because I love doing them. That includes all the starting, stopping, thinking, hoping, wanting, winning, losing, hurting, haunting, and every other stupid, selfish, pointless thing that comes with this writer’s turf.

You see, I don’t write for the approval of anyone but me. Though, like most of us do, I did when I was a schoolboy. But as one knows better, one does so, right? And, likewise, I’ve only ever fought to find out about myself. That’s because I think the point of writing is seeing me, as reflected by you. So you might see yourself in my reflection. And maybe that’s because of what another writer asked, long ago, about how one could be here and not have a story to tell.

I don’t know about that, for sure. But few, at best, know much about anything. Instead, I accept on faith only what science claims as fact. With a commitment to do better, as it becomes known to me. While also taking responsibility for my acts. For me, that’s close enough to a philosophy, for a writer. And the way I see things, the job is applying it to my writing.

So, where once I knew the joy of profound ignorance, I now know the power of humble experience. Not only that, but as all who do must, along the way, I had to pay a price for these gifts. And of the things I could share with you today, reader, I offer this: I would do all of it again.

That’s despite knowing that if I did, there’s a good chance I’d find another way to make the same old mistakes. And if ageism has anything to do with that, I sure hope the eggheads don’t figure out a way to get rid of it. Because tomorrow’s writers are sure to need it just as much, or maybe more, than I did.

As always, thanks for being here, and for sharing this with anyone you think might like to read it.


June 9, 2024

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