The Old Man and the C

Reading the program notes at the symphony last weekend, my husband wondered about music prodigies versus writing prodigies — the former often burst upon the stage before their twelve-year-molars come in; the latter are often having bridge work and root canals before their talents are recognized.

Why is this? What is it about music that produces, or reveals genius, at such young ages? Does music come from a part of the brain easily accessed by the Little Tykes set but the brilliant writing brain can only be unlocked by those who’ve pedaled around the block at least a couple dozen times or so? Found some interesting articles and posts on the topic that offer up a few insights.

Prodigal writing demands not only mastery of language but insights and experiences not easily, or naturally, gained. A ten-year-old couldn’t have written Slaughterhouse Five; had a sixth grader penned In Cold Blood he’d probably be taken into protective services.

It’s not that writing prodigies don’t exist, but that
writers need time to come into their gifts; the creative well is primed by the stuff of life churning and replicating in its depths. This should give us hope. Hemingway’s first book was published when he was in his twenties; Helen Hooven Santmeyer was eighty-eight. And that’s just age at publication, not age at writing.

You can only be a prodigy once. But you can be productive for years on end. Which is the more prodigious goal?

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6 thoughts on “The Old Man and the C

  1. Christy

    Does this mean I just have to sit tight? Will life experience make me a writing prodigy? NO? (shaking head) My kid? Definitely up on the music thing. Humph.

  2. Cindy L

    I agree! Writing is one of those rare things (at least by today’s standards) that gets better with age and practice. That’s not to say we don’t want to hear younger writers’ voices. But there is a richness and depth in the work of an older writer that doesn’t come easily and comes only with wisdom and experience…

  3. Pam Sheppard

    Debra: What a refreshing new take on the talent issue! Thank you! There’s another view, more a cultural view: musical ability, recognized early,is one that is often richly cultivated. A child prodigy might be drenched with music, surrounded by music and musicians. It’s the vestige of the early guild system, isn’t it? I always think of the early artists who, when they showed talent as children, were shipped off to apprentice with a master. In our culture, we ignore this and make our prodigies sit through many years of ‘education’. Few see the gifts in them as worth cultivating before the required education has been completed.
    I see it as a tragedy for my son. His third grade teacher brought out his amazing gifts for poetry and written expression. It was never supported after that, except by me, his editor mom; now I see only glimpses of what he can do. In the right hands, our children will do so much more than just learning ‘to the tests’. The potential is still there…but years have been wasted. Thankfully, the creative spirit finds a way, and he will live to write again!
    So, is it any wonder that so many creative gifts do not emerge until late, after the culturally acceptable life has been completed? So many talented people can reach the age where they are FINALLY FREE to write, to paint, to sing, to create.

  4. cindy

    When I was younger I wanted to be a musician. I ended up settling for singing sentences, and have no regrets.

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