Thursday, March 3, 2011

Can You Be Too Old To Write?

Now that the last of the exciting TV Writing modules has gone out, I'm thinking now of what to present to you next.

After much consideration of your requests, I've decided on a series of short (for me!) writing masterclasses focused on character, plotting, conflict, drama, story construction, point of view, getting ideas, staying motivated and finding your own writing style.

Each masterclass will focus solely on one issue - so you can pick and choose the area that most interests and / or challenges you.

These are all subjects I know that many new writers need answers to - and over the coming weeks I will do my best to provide them for you.

You may be surprised to learn that one of the frequent questions I'm asked is, "Am I too old to write?"

And the funny thing is that it's not just 'older' people that ask me this question.

Sometimes, new writers as young as eighteen and nineteen seek my advice on this issue - apparently wondering whether they've missed the boat if they're not studying journalism or creative writing or some other 'writerly' qualification by the time they're twenty.

Of course it depends what you want out of your life - and where you think writing stands in the myriad of possibilities available to you - however old you are.

The good news is that there are no barriers to writing success based on qualifications.

A good writer is a good writer - as far as anyone is concerned, including readers, publishers, editors and agents. You're neither too old nor too young to write. If your writing is effective at conveying ideas, emotions and information, you're in!

Frank McCourt, famously, was sixty before he got his first book, Tis, published to critical acclaim. Many popular writers start relatively late in their careers when they realize that the many day jobs they've had just aren't satisfying them.

It's become almost a cliche that writers' own resumes have a jumbled mess of a career - and life - before they begin writing full time. As I say, it depends on what you want, what is right for you, at any particular point in your life.

You can't teach the urge to write. You also can't teach someone to improve they're writing. This may sound odd coming from someone like me - but I know it's true.

Here's why:

Writing is like a personality trait or a bad habit in people. You can't change it or stop it or get any better unless you want to change.

And just like all those despairing spouses who desperately wish their partners would change - it ain't gonna happen unless that partner makes a conscious effort to alter themselves - and doesn't just do it because they're being hassled, cajoled, advised or forced to change.

You're never too old to write. But, "Am I too old to write?" is not actually the right question.

The correct question is, "Am I too old to improve my writing?"

And here we see the interesting part. Because my experience of teaching writing is that older people are often more receptive to instruction - and can improve quickly, because they want to.

Younger writers on the other hand may be much more obstinate about their failings - and cling to bad habits when they're being screamed at (like all those frustrated spouses!) to change them.

And by younger I don't necessarily mean 'young' - I mean newer writers - as in people who've really only started to take themselves seriously as writers, whether they're nineteen or ninety.

It's a mindset issue. A professionally minded writer is always open to criticism - however much it hurts.

When criticized for a bad writing habit, you may think that the reader is being pedantic - that they're missing the point and not looking at the writing as a whole. But this is the point.

Unless you clear up the bad grammar, the typos you consistently make and the little stylistic elements that grate on the reader, then you will always fail to keep the reader focused on your writing - and whatever it is you're trying to say.

Little things like 'point of view' switches in fiction, consistently using the wrong punctuation and insisting on inappropriate formatting of your manuscripts are all things that 'get in the way' of your writing when trying to impress someone with your words.

Your age is irrelevant when it comes to these issues. Writers of any age can - and do - make these mistakes. But also, writers of any age can improve their writing - if they want to.

It's about being open - and willing to change for the better.

To me, this is one of the reasons why writing keeps people's minds agile. Because writing requires this mindset of 'Can I?" - an acronym meaning, Constant And Neverending Improvement.

Writers of any age can be good enough to get published, even self publish, and impress the world.

There is no age barrier to writers, only a mindset barrier.

Because if you ever feel you're too old to improve or learn more, then yes, you're too old.

But if you keep wanting to get better, even if people tell you that you're the best (or worst) writer in the world, then you really do have all the qualifications, life experience, empathy and talent you'll ever need.
Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"A professional is a man who respects his trade, tries as hard as he can to perfect his work, and realizes that one failure isn’t the end of the world. Or two…or three."
Nathaniel Benchley
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