We Should Think of Writers Like we do Athletes

The other week I was listening to the LeVar Burton Reads podcast and the story for that episode was from a young writer named RF Kuang. LeVar gave her age as 24 and suddenly I felt pangs of jealousy. Those feelings have nothing to do with her, but much more to do with me. That is the way jealousy works. Then I heard the story and it was one of the most magnificent stories I had ever heard. Immediately afterwards I purchased her debut novel The Poppy War and tore through it. The blinding of fantasy, folk stories, history, and magical realism was brilliant. After hearing her story on LeVar Burton Reads and then reading her debut novel I was more in awe than jealous. RF Kuang is a genius, prodigy, and all other synonyms for those concepts.

It then struck me that I have never been jealous of Juan Soto. While I am certain it would be nice to be a 21 year old MLB player with a career batting line of .294/.411/.556 it is not something I have ever wanted to be. My baseball career topped out in little league and I really wasn’t good at any other sports. My greatest athletic accomplishment in my life is standing or lying in one spot and lifting lots of weight. Not anything a lot of people care about or something dreams are made of. On the other hand writing is something I have been told I am good at.

And now I’ve started to actually believe people, and that is a recipe for jealousy. When you hear someone at 24 has done what you wish to do at 39 or later it causes those shameful feelings to stir, but if we are going to compare the young prodigy to someone like Juan Soto then perhaps I am more like Michael Morse. A baseball player that struggled through the first four seasons of his career and was then sent to Washington in a throw away deal, and blossomed at the age of 27.

As baseball careers typically end in a person’s early to mid 30’s and writing careers last until death or madness I think it is reasonable to view the baseball age of 27 as the equivalent in writers age as 50. That gives me 11 years to actually do something, and like Michael Morse if I can have a short run of four good years I’ll be happy. While someone like RF Kuang could go on to have a 40 year career publishing hundreds of works. I’ll be happy if I can get one published work and a book tour.

Our culture is driven by success and those that achieve early success and sustain it are often viewed as the best and brightest of us. I certainly expect Juan Soto to be a productive baseball player late into his 30’s. That is what players like him do, but for every prodigy out there there is a Crash Davis who just wants a tiny slice of the dream.

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