Friday, November 18, 2011

Writing and Age

I receive countless emails from writers telling me they decided later in life to write. As a result, they say one of the following phrases:

1. I'm too old, and nobody takes me seriously.
2. I have to self-publish because I don't have time to go the normal route with an agent and publisher.
3. I've had a good life and people would learn from what I have to say, so I need to pen my memoirs.
4. I'm older, and I'm in a hurry, with little time to waste.

Age can be a catalyst for decisions we've postponed or an excuse for short cuts. Mistakes are made easily with this mindset.

I also receive emails from writers who are still learning about the world, in their teens and twenties. Their concerns follow these lines of logic:

1. I'm too young, and nobody takes me seriously.
2. I have to self-publish because it's the way new writers are getting discovered these days.
3. I had a bad experience and people would learn from what I have to say, so I need to pen my memoirs.
4. I'm younger, and I'm in a hurry, with little time to waste.

Notice the similarities. To me, one of the most attractive aspects of being a writer is that it's ageless. You can be any age and write about any age. Your work speaks for you, and the best queries give no indication of your age, thus, making the editor/publisher/agent consider you per your writing abilities first and foremost.

The bottom line is, age doesn't matter. If the writing, project, lesson or story is good, it can get published. What I don't want you to do is blame age for anything. You're in one of the most age-forgiving professions in the world. The moment you mention it, you reveal your insecurities. Insecurity is a deterrent to those buying work. They don't want that baggage. They want good writing and writers who believe in their writing.

The next time you write a query, avoid these words when speaking about yourself:

-previous profession (i.e., I'm a retired [fill in blank] )

-just out of school
-my teachers
-high school
-not published
-lack of work experience

You want your writing to be judged, not you. On the other hand, if any of these items have a parallel connection to the story you pitch, use them as strengths in your bio, demonstrating you have first-hand experience.

But never use them otherwise. They come across that you seek sympathy or need an excuse as to why you aren't more than you are. This business is competitive enough without fueling the fire, giving editors an excuse to say no.

Say you are a writer. Not older, not younger, not inexperienced, not retired. Focus on the writer in you. That's what you want to come across in your work.


Kelly Robinson said...

I have an editor that sends me particular assignments when she needs "a young voice." I'm 44! She doesn't know any differently, as we do it all over the internet. I'm proud that I can alter that voice to suit whichever mag I'm working for, and I'm hoping to do it when I'm 94.

Christine Reifeiss said...

I found this both amusing and enlightening.

I am 40 years old and have been using the same excuses. My mantra, has been, "how can I be taken seriously when my degree has nothing to do with writing, yet the college in my town churns out journalism and creative writing students every year?"

Sounds like it's time to dismiss my insecurities about launching a part-time writing career.

Hope Clark said...

Christine -

Interesting parallel observation. And you're absolutely correct.


Nancy said...

I didn't start writing until I was in my mid-fifties. Somehow, life got in the way of a long-held desire. I've been published numerous times in many different venues. Age is not a factor unless you allow it to be. I'm 72 and just had my 12th Chicken Soup for the Soul story published plus many others this year.

Hope Clark said...


Maybe you need to consider speaking to groups about how to write for Chicken Soup. Conferences would pay you for that. So would other writers via online courses. Or blogs, newsletters and websites might buy a piece about how to make Chicken Soup work. Maybe even in FundsforWriters!