Zadie Smith wrote her first book when she was 25.
White Teeth, her debut novel, has not the slightest bit of self-consciousness or hesitation, not a whiff of amateur-ness or a diffident relenting to inexperience about it. Twenty-five years old, and she writes about a 40-year old man. Makes it convincing, too.
There is a sort of pressure that clenches at your throat when you hear of young achievers, especially poets and writers. Franz Fanon was also 25 – 26? – pretty much under 30 in any case when he wrote Black Skin, White Mask. And Keats died at 26, having achieved the kind of fame – well, admittedly, most of it after his death – that most of us can only dream of.
It is easy to brush this off by a wave of the hand, offhandedly exclaiming “genius” and then looking away. Really, though, what else can we do? There’s no use sulking over their great talent and staring at the calendar, watching days creeping close to your next birthday before you have properly recovered from the shock of the previous one.
I try to keep in mind J.K. Rowling, who rose to fame at 40. I remember that Amitav Ghosh began to write great books while he was in his 40s. Essentially, for most writers, life needed to be fully lived and experienced to be able to fuel their creativity. You may start late but your oeuvre may be as masterful as a person who started earlier than you. It’s only that you took some time to find your groove.
At the end of the day, age does not really matter. What matters is what you have created, what you will leave behind you whenever you go.
Achieving something great at a very young age is rare and requires unadulterated talent. Talent, and the right circumstances, too. Anne Frank wrote very well, but her diary acquires much pathos and rises to the level of poignancy because of where she wrote her diary from and under what circumstance.
For the rest of us, though, who are devoid of either, we are not lost cause yet. We have what is most essential in any sort of achievement, even more so than talent: perseverance. With this sure-shot fool-proof weapon, we will survive this marshland of towering tower heads of talent and the million minions of untalented money-makers.