The Romance of Youth and Romanticising Writing

By Moyan Brenn
By Moyan Brenn

There is something enchanting about the innocence of youth. Have you ever noticed how the old take comfort from the young? As if an encounter with youth is a tonic for their own regrets, cleansing, a guard against mortality even. The promise of youth is a wonderful thing. Yet however exhilarating this passionate freefall, disappointments inevitably beckon.

Life experience teaches us to be wary and wise. Loss and failure take their toll on blind faith. We no longer approach our passions with the same zealousness as our younger selves. Often idealists are tinged by realism, hopeless romantics end up in hopeless situations (I’m thinking Die Leiden des jungen Werthers here) and those on the political left drift over further to the right.

For a time I mourned the dying parts of my personality. I recognised the setbacks and disenchantments that had changed me, and sought to understand how I had ended up there in the first place. We can’t control everything, my older self knows that. Back then doubt grew in the place of fearlessness.

Still, to romantise youth and spurn old age is folly. We can learn from the young to go after our dreams bravely, to dance in the rain, to view things simply. Age too brings wisdom and clarity. Too often we dismiss that we need both sides of the equation. That’s why our journey is so necessary and clever.

By Daniel Stark
By Daniel Stark

Eventually I recognised that growth doesn’t quash the integral elements of our personality, it simply adds complexity. I have found that my idealist streak ebbs and flows dependent on my encounters. Being with the kids reminds me to see things through their eyes. Exposure to politics allows threads of cynicism to take root. Writing feeds my romanticism. Moving countries unravelled some assumptions and reinforced others.

It is this diversity of experience that feeds our life and our writing. Conforming to one world view is always dangerous. The characters we write may be initially chosen to embody one angle, but like us they need to be exposed to the unexpected and the irrational and become multi-dimensional if they are to be anything other than cardboard cut-outs. I want to see the whole spectrum in the books I read: blue skies and thunder, imagined futures and burning reality, wizards and psychopaths. A psychopathic wizard even. Oh wait, Sauramon and Voldemort have that covered.

In real life, we don’t do ourselves any favours if we remain rigid. Some professions encourage realism. Others nurture idealism. I realised recently that I had fallen into the trap of romanticising writing. But tempting though it may be, this may be the very thing that is holding you back. To build up this profession so that is almost feels holy puts too much pressure on us. We do not magically download our words. If you wait for the muse you may not ever get your novel on paper. My kids believe in the tooth fairy but I am sure as hell going to get rid of the teeth underneath their pillow when she doesn’t show.

By Nick Kenrick
By Nick Kenrick

It is not a magical being who writes your book. You do. You develop the concept, research, sit at your desk day after day, chipping away at the story until you finds its core, rebuild it from there. Once the last chapter has been written you and your team edit and polish the manuscript and begin the work of formatting, cover design, marketing and sales.

It is work not a divine intervention. Choose when to be a realist and when to be an idealist. The heavens have gifted you your talent not the finished product. Indeed this cultural block, the underestimation of the labour that goes into a book, may be a contributing factor as to why writers are poorly compensated unless they reach the upper echelons of fame. Yes, writing is often much more than a job. But don’t knock having a job. Recognise that your emotional attachment to writing is both a source of power and an impediment.

Let’s demystify the writing process for our own sanity. Certainly for me, the huge industry around writerly doubt and fears is starting to grate. We don’t have to subscribe to the image of the tortured artist. Passions, fear, loss and disappointment are part of the human condition. At the end of the day, as in any field, success comes down to any number of factors but determination is one of the most important ones. If you really want something, just sit down and do the work.

15 thoughts on “The Romance of Youth and Romanticising Writing

  1. Well said, Nillu. That tendency to idealise and romanticise is the road to disappointment and thwarted ambition. I see it particularly in that notion of “writer’s block”, as if a writer’s sense of disillusionment and apathy is different to that experienced by lesser mortals. It’s a job/hobby/way of spending time like any other. Let’s get on with it!
    (Nevertheless, I reserve the right to romancitize on the next blog I visit.)

    1. Thanks for your insightful comments, Anne. Agree about writer’s block too. No work is plain sailing and sometimes we can make it worse by labelling. I still enjoy romanticising :). Trick is not to forget I’m doing it!

  2. Good thoughts. I heartily agree. Rigidity only ever limits and thus harms us; we need the ability to tolerate ambiguity, contradictions, uncertainty, shadow, and tension in order to let our deepest soul shine through in creativity.

    This reminds me of a quote I love:
    “All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.” – Tolstoy (Anna Karenina, Part I, Chapter XI)

  3. Great piece, Nillu. It’s rather uncanny, because I’m working on a similar post at the moment. As long as we treat writing more like a dream and less like a profession, we’re unlikely to make genuine progress.
    I like the way you’ve framed this with romanticism. As long as we romanticise about writing, the more likely we are to end up on the road of disillusionment.
    Thoroughly enjoyed!

    1. Glad you enjoyed B. Glad we’ve both stumbled into thinking about this. Does marr professionalism, as you say. I find that writers often end up picking up similar themes because often we are reacting to the same materials. Fun to see what tangents we choose to go with. Look forward to yours x

  4. “The huge industry around writerly doubt and fears is starting to grate.” Yes. The question is, what is fostering that industry? Is it that being a “writer” is more of a badge of identity than other professions, so the stakes are higher? Can you imagine a plumber refusing to go to work because he had “plumber’s block”? (OK, maybe that’s not a good example, as it is a profession that comes with its own unblocking mechanism… but you get the idea.) Is it just that we tend to romanticize writing and don’t understand that it takes discipline and practice? Or is it simply because the market is saturated, and a lot of good writers who can’t find enough creative work to guarantee their own economic security are finding that they can make money bolstering the confidence of insecure writers? According to one book I read recently, MFA v NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, the entire system of creative writing programs in the United States may be built on this premise. All of those things are worth pondering, but of course, in the final analysis, nothing beats racking up those hours, and pages, ignoring the great ontological questions (“AM I a WRITER? AM I????” and working the craft.

    1. I love that plumber analogy. Spot on. And you’re right it does feel like an identity as well as a profession, especially noticeable to me when we move together in great messy friendship circles on Twitter. As for the MFA/craft book aspect, I’d like to reject the cynicism but I am sure you are right. Thanks for taking the argument further, Nillu

  5. Once you fall in love with writing, it the best form of romance you can cherish…writing is bliss, it is harmony. Once should first write for oneself and enjoy that journey. Writing for others a choice you can exercise at your own convenience. Yes, Youth has it’s own charm…romance of youth and romancing writing is a wonderful thought… Lovely post!!!

    More in “Writing is Wonderful” –

  6. I work full time to counter the doubt that whispers to me full time. In fact, I’ve taught myself to ignore it and keep working toward my goals. For me, writing down daily, short term goals on a piece of paper that aim toward the long term goal helps, and I check them off one by one until I finish one daily list. The next morning, I write my next list of goals.

    But the doubting whispers are always there nagging me to give up.

    As for the innocence of youth, yesterday on my daily walk, I visited a local harvest festival and there was this pile of bales of straw maybe five bales high in a pyramid style. As I arrived, there was this girl, maybe three or four, who had just reached the top and was standing on the final bale. I think the bale, if stood on end, would have been taller than her. She lifted her arms to the sky in victory and smiled big.

    I don’t think the doubting voices have a beachhead in her mind yet. That comes with time.

    1. Hi Lloyd, cheers for visiting. It’s such a personal journey, finding the ways to overcome our doubts. Check lists and writing down goals help for me too, although I have learnt to be careful in setting them. If I’m not realistic then it can de demoralising to miss them.

      That’s a fantastic image of the girl on the straw. Yes a lot comes with age, both good and bad. Life is bittersweet, and all the more beautiful because of it.

      1. To tell you the truth, sometimes it takes a few days to finish one list of daily goals.


        But even if it takes several days to finish one list that was meant to last only one day, I keep at it until they are all checked off, before I write the next list of goals.

Leave a Reply