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Werthead

Do writers have an age where their talent peaks?

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This article says yes.

(note: article seems to have been written as an excuse to bash GRRM, which will likely be inflammatory, but the writer's suggestion that authors have a 'best by' date after which they go into an irreversible decline is still a valid topic)

Interesting suggestion, and backed up by some apparently telling figures, though there's also some cherry-picking going on. To make the argument work, the author argues that Arthur C. Clarke peaked with the Odyssey series, which I don't think is true. That's his most famous series because of the movies, not his most critically-acclaimed work (which is Childhood's End - which does fall into the middle of the argument period - or Rendezvous with Rama or The Fountains of Paradise - which fall much later). He also missed out on Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe and Terry Pratchett, amongst quite a few others.

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I've been thinking about this as well, but, imho, it's probably false.

It's far more a subjective kind of trajectory than one bound to how old one is. Obviously at some point you lose the lucidity or have more trouble dealing with certain kinds complicate stuff. Which isn't a good thing for GRRM.

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Oh, and I'd say I agree with that quote from Terry Goodkind ... Duh.

Without adding another post, the logic of the article is flawed, though. He thinks AFFC and ADWD are both crap. And he says it's because Martin is now past his prime.

Yet Martin wrote both these books in the arc of 52-62, that he says it's when an author is essentially at his best.

So it would make sense if he was only worried about what Martin could write from this point onward.

Btw,

Don DeLillo published Underworld when he was 61.

Philiph Roth published American Pastoral when he was 64.

Cormac McCarthy published both The Road and No Country for Old Men at 72.

There are probably plenty of other examples.

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I think it's true that writers will have a peak somewhere in their careers and their later work won't reach that peak, but it's not a very interesting statement since it's pretty much true by definition. The suggestion that there's a common age where this happens is a more interesting idea, but I'm unconvinced, I think it would be something that would vary a lot depending on the author. It wouldn't be too surprising if that peak age was often in the 20 year range he mentions, but that doesn't mean it will be true for everyone.

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While looking at things I found on the wikipedia this nice quote about Roth:

"In 1959 he writes Goodbye, Columbus and it's a masterpiece, magnificent. Fifty-one years later he's 78 years old and he writes Nemesis and it is so wonderful, such a terrific novel ... Tell me one other writer who 50 years apart writes masterpieces ... If you look at the trajectory of the average novel writer, there is a learning period, then a period of high achievement, then the talent runs out and in middle age they start slowly to decline. People say why aren't Martin [Amis] and Julian [barnes] getting on the Booker prize shortlist, but that's what happens in middle age. Philip Roth, though, gets better and better in middle age. In the 1990s he was almost incapable of not writing a masterpiece – The Human Stain, The Plot Against America, I Married a Communist. He was 65–70 years old, what the hell's he doing writing that well?"

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My opinion:

It's not about writers peaking at some age, it's that different writers find their voices at different points in their lives. They have a point where they emerge with their voice the strongest, which is like peaking, but then for whatever reason, burn out, writer's block, distractions, other interests, their voices fade.

However I think it's possible for writers to then rediscover their voice.

All this is nothing to do with set ages but the shape of the life each individual writer leads.

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The linked article makes some good points.

I wouldn't go so far as the author did, to call some writers divas (even though they are), but it's not just a matter of "not owing" work to fans. It's a matter of realizing their fans are a huge part of their success -- they put the expensive cars in the garage, as Noel Gallagher of Oasis once said.

A young, hungry writer is almost always going to be grateful and extremely appreciative of their fans. An author who's been at it for 30 years may take their success for granted.

And then there's the pure money side of it, which was Robert Jordan's downfall. If your publisher wants to milk your work for all its worth, and that leads you to stretch out narrative time until a thousand pages only covers a few days, then don't be surprised when fans abandon the series en masse. And the fans who stuck with it had to know there was a possibility Jordan would die before he finished the series.

Now they're stuck with this Sanderson fellow. lulz.

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My opinion:

It's not about writers peaking at some age, it's that different writers find their voices at different points in their lives. They have a point where they emerge with their voice the strongest, which is like peaking, but then for whatever reason, burn out, writer's block, distractions, other interests, their voices fade.

However I think it's possible for writers to then rediscover their voice.

All this is nothing to do with set ages but the shape of the life each individual writer leads.

this. just like all of us. eventually we just run out of things to say.

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I dunno. Dorothy Dunnett just kept getting better. Gemini came out the year before she died at 78.

I think it's possible to lose your way, artistically speaking, but I don't think it's a given.

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I think the article should ask:

Do authors write better fucked up on drugs?

In Stephen Kings case, he does not remember writing some of his most iconic books. He'd be plugging toilet paper into his nostrils and bleeding everywhere from all of the coke in the middle of the night. There are other examples that tell me that writers need to get continously fucked up on drugs, and when they stop, they start to decline.

Like that Daniel Abraham fellow. I hear he takes a train ride on a wall of white every night.

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Fritz Leiber comes to mind as an author whose quality significantly diminished in later life.

On the other hand, Tolkien published LOTR when he was in his early 60s, and even The Hobbit came out when he was in his mid-40s.

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I would have said Stephen King reached his peak years ago, but his latest book (his last couple, actually) proved me dead wrong.

Cormac McCarthy seems to be just hitting his stride, and he's 78

Elmore Leonard is still damn good, and he's 86 and shows no signs of slowing down.

Larry McMurtry, on the other hand...Haven't liked anything he's done since Lonesome Dove. It's like he won the Pulitzer and has been phoning it in ever since.

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Or perhaps after reading the first tomes in a series, the novelty-factor wears off? I don't notice GRRM doing anything noticably different, though I admit the story might not be unfolding in the way I want it to, but that's not GRRM's fault now, is it?

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Or perhaps after reading the first tomes in a series, the novelty-factor wears off?

I agree. Also, tricks typically used by a given author, for example cliffhangers and false deaths so loved by GRRM, may seem fresh in the first novel or two but start to seem stale when the series continues.

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Tom Clancy reached his peak with Rainbow Six and it's been downhill ever since. The less said about his recent "co-authored" books, the better. It's quite obvious he hasn't written one damn word of those.

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Like that Daniel Abraham fellow.

Does the name Carter Ruck mean anything to you?

:wideeyed:

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With, say, Robert Rankin, you're never quite sure when they're not on drugs.

Vicious slander! Unless you're counting several pints of Large.

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I think it depends more on how many ideas the author has. If they have one amazing story or series and they do well, then I guess there is pressure to continue writing afterwards (or worse drag the story out) and this can lead to them peaking. Then again it may just take them a while to hit upon another good idea that rings true to them. Given the way publishing works though you are probably under pressure to release a book every 2-3 years to stay on the radar so there's bound to be cases where the author appears to be phoning it in.

I do agree that a lot of authors tend to need a few books to hit their stride. I don't know if this is true of all genres but it seems to be the case with SFF where I get the impression the idea/concept can overcome the quality of the writing. Fortunately in most cases they do improve so I guess it's the case of editors being able to spot talent they know will develop,

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