Each week, Evan Peterson rounds up stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out.
At what age are we at our peak as writers? The Man Booker committee gave support to the argument for youth this week, though a nonagenarian disputes that notion. Plus, a writing cheat sheet you'll want to use, how to reclaim the urge to write, and tips for getting published in The New York Times
’ opinion pages.
What is the optimal age for writing?:
The Man Booker prize—the U.K.'s version of the Pulitzer in literature—was awarded this week to a 28-year-old, the youngest-ever winner of the award. The Man Booker judges said, "Maturity is evident in every sentence" of Eleanor Catton's "The Luminaries."
Maturity seems like a necessary quality for good writing, but the news got me thinking: What is the age when most writers do their best work? Twenty-eight seems young, but if "The Luminaries" turns out to be Catton's best, she certainly wouldn't be the first fiction writer to peak in her 20s.
Journalists often do their best work before 30 as well, but at some point there has to be an optimal mix of maturity, creativity, energy, and hunger, that combine to create a writer's best work. So, when is that?
In the end, it likely has more to do with opportunity than it has ever had to do with age. Man Booker prizes, Pulitzers, etc., don't come around that often.
Still writing at 90:
At whatever age you do your best writing, it is safe to say that youth is not necessarily an advantage. So much of any kind of writing is about observation and knowing what questions to ask, and that often comes with just living longer.
Babette Hughes is 90—a nonagenarian author—and she's still writing and offering advice on how to keep doing it. That Hughes is writing at 90 is inspiring, but even more interesting is that she's been writing for only
50 years, meaning she didn't publish her first story until she was 40.
As she says in the piece: "The creative richness and energy of the unconscious mind doesn't care how old we are." So there's some inspiration for the 35–89 age group.
[RELATED: Get advanced writing and editing tips from Mark Ragan and Jim Ylisela.]
A Writing Cheat Sheet:
If you're a fan of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” George Orwell's “Politics and the English Language,” or Edward Tufte's rules of presentations, or if you ever write or present as part of your job at all, you now have a one-pager to keep at your desk.
wrote about the cheat sheet that writer and programmer Mike Shea put together. It has fans and detractors, but it's helpful, and you should print it out. Read the reddit thread about it here
Have you lost the urge to write?:
Poynter Institute occasionally hosts helpful chats about writing issues with instructor Roy Peter Clark. This week's was about losing the inspiration to write.
Writers of several kinds who've lost the urge to practice their craft chimed in with questions about burnout and personal struggle. There's a lot of good advice in the transcript if you're feeling a little overburdened or writing is starting to feel only like a task, and not something you enjoy.
This response to a question about how to reignite the passion for writing after suffering personal setbacks is especially good:
“The cool thing about being a writer is that ‘personal setbacks’ can be, on occasion, converted to interesting stories. You gain control of negative experience by turning it into a story—even if you don't publish it. I always tell kids who are ‘disadvantaged,’ that it is better for a writer to have spent a night in jail than a day at the mall…”
How to get your opinion in The New York Times:
has quite an extensive opinion section these days, which includes everything from semi-reported pieces to Civil War anecdotes to a blog about writing (which I've featured several times here).
Op-Ed editor Trish Hall wrote this piece about how to get published in any and all of them. Besides being helpful to writers who may be looking for a byline on The New York Times
website (or a byline anywhere), it provides a look into how a team of editors at the Times
works. It's an accessible, and possibly familiar, process to editors, but certainly worth learning about if you're looking for ways to manage content and an editorial calendar.
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.