The future is like a blank piece of paper and there’s nothing more foreboding that being faced with a white sheet of paper when you’re not sure what you’re expected to say. But who says you’ve got to write anything? You could draw on it, scribble on it, fold it up and put it in your pocket, rip it to shreds or make an origami water bomb out of it. It’s your future—you’re the one who has to live in it when everyone has long run out of remarks to pass about it. Remember that.
There comes a time when every generation has to pass on the torch and it would be nice if there was a moment when that happened, when one generation formally ended, but that’s not how it works; one generation seeps into the next. It’s like growing up. There’s no day when you stop being a boy and become a man but one day you look in the mirror and wonder who this old fart is looking back at you. We lose our innocence earlier and earlier and I don’t care what the Jews say, no one’s a man at thirteen. Thirty, perhaps. According to this article in The Telegraph men don’t actually grow up until they’re forty-three, eleven years later than women.
Like most kids I used to collect comics. British comics were okay but I really loved the American stuff—both Marvel and DC equally, although I’m more of a DC man these days—and one of the ones that stuck with me was Action Comics #393 from October 1970. Not the main story, the second one: ‘The Day Superboy became Superman’. I don’t remember the details—if you’re interested you can read about them here—but it was the title, the idea that you would know when it happened. It didn’t happen when I was eighteen. It didn’t happen when I turned twenty-one. It didn’t happen the first time I had sex. But somewhere along the line when I wasn’t paying full attention it happened.
Googling the expression “grown-up writer” brings up some interesting results. It’s obvious from reading these posts that there a lot of people out there who realise that they’ve been playing at writing and not treating the thing seriously. For some all writing will ever be is a hobby—they’re working for forty, fifty, sixty hours a week and writing is an escape (it’s hard to think about it as work)—but even for those who’ve moved past that and see their writing as a vocation—albeit a very poorly paid one—are probably still resistant to thinking of writing as work because writing’s fun and since when was work fun? I think for me the day—this is a hypothetical day you have to understand—I looked in the mirror and saw a writer looking back at me was the day I became a grownup writer. I’d probably been one already but there comes a point when you have to acknowledge the fact publicly and not apologetically. I suppose it’s a bit like coming out:
"So you are a
and I felt unclean
and wanted my closet back.
23 March 1989
So, yes, to the next generation I’d say: Grow up. The future needs grownups. You can do a lot with a blank sheet of paper. Just don’t screw it up.