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If It Wasn’t For those Pesky Kids…

This Power of 3 malarkey, how to do it and what constitutes good feedback has got everyone talking, it seems. Since posting on Thursday I’ve had a deluge of emails and IMs and have noticed a variety of conversations on blogs, message boards and forums ranging from concurrence to the faintly bemused to the full-blown attack on amateurs and newbies.

The “newer” writer – as in, the writer who has written only a few scripts – will always get a bum deal it seems. Sometimes it would appear that the more experienced a writer becomes, the more they forget what it was like when they first started. It happens in all professions; it’s long been documented for example that junior doctors work 84 hour weeks, eventually become consultants and then forget they ever did those 84 hour weeks: what it felt like or how desperately tired they were and worried about making a mistake. Perhaps it’s human nature?

What I’ve always liked about writing and creativity though is it appears to be completely devoid of expectation on the basis of gender, race, religion or life experience. You literally can bring to it what you know – or not, as the case may be; that’s the power of research, especially in novels. The more experienced you actually become in the craft of writing, the more coherent your story becomes: the better your plotwork, character, dialogue, etc is. Your first script will never be your best, just as no first draft is ever the best realisation of your story on paper, no matter how experienced a writer you actually are.

But here’s an interesting question for you:

I am 27. Is it not possible for me to be as good a writer as someone who is 47? After all, they have lived more – twenty whole years. You can get a lot done in that time; raise a child from 0 to adulthood; travel the world, establish a career, or all three and more. We hear a lot about my generation – fewer of us are having kids, getting married or even co-habiting. I heard a survey on the radio recently where 58% of 30 year olds said they do not consider themselves old enough to have a child or get married and they spend between £70-80 a month on crap off eBay as standard. Most are not yet in the job they “really want”, yet most don’t even know what job that actually is. Welcome to the MTV generation, where we may travel more by air than twenty years ago, but nearly always to the same place apparently.

Is this what writing is all about, life experience? And those younger cannot possibly measure up?

But what about this: is the writer who starts in their 20s a better or worse writer than somehow one that starts in their forties? Or does the latter have that life experience to “fal1 back on”?

Or is this all more a case of those older always say the next generation coming up is somehow worse or more inadequate than theirs (and we have it all to come)?

Over to you…

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18 thoughts on “If It Wasn’t For those Pesky Kids…”

  1. There are 15 years between me and my husband and he’s always going on about the difference between him and me and how his lot all did it better. What I want to know is, we’ve been married for 20 years now, we’ve raised 4 kids… So what is the difference, exactly? I didn’t watch the same TV programmes as a child maybe?

    Nice blog by the way – been reading for ages, even though I don’t actually write which is why I don’t normally comment… Not sure I’m qualified!


  2. Of course you’re qualified Maria (and welcome!). We’re writing so hopefully people will watch our stuff, of which you are one of them. If more non-writers read screenwriting blogs, perhaps we could pick their non-writing brains for subjects to write about that would appeal more to non-writers? If that makes any sense at all…

  3. No it’s not possible for young whipper snappers to be as good at writing as us Oldies. Come on, you have the lithe bodies, all your teeth and dastardly sex, whereas we get the pot bellies and liver spots. We gotta have something over you lot.

  4. Life experience definitely helps feed a good script, I’d say. But life experience doesn’t necessarily equate with advanced years: some 21-year-olds have already lived more than your average 90-year-old.

    Even if you’ve got decades of incredible life under your belt, of course, there’s the worry of keeping your finger on the pulse when it comes to the younger demographic…

  5. Chris (ukscriptwriter)

    Just because you are older doesn’t mean you will make a better newbie writer.

    I reviewed a script on zoetrope (sp?) by a guy who boasted about his life experience in his profile as if to impress me into giving the script a good review. He was some highly ranked air force guy who had done more than most people could even imagine, and he now wanted a career as a feature film writer (just like that!). Suffice to say the script sucked big time. It did have a start and it did have an end, but the 100 or so pages in the middle may have been picked out of random screenplays for all the sense they made.

    Anyway, in short creativity is something that you mould over time, but you have to have it in the first place. A 40 year old may have more life experience to call from, but if he/she doesn’t have the ability to be creative with it then it isn’t worth a thing.

  6. Some illuminating thoughts there boys. Not sure what “dastardly sex” amounts to tho, am I missing out??

    But in answer to Jason and Chris, I have seen NO noticable difference in the writing ability of 20 vs 40 yr olds (or any other age for that matter). There are mistakes that less experienced writers make – and mistakes that more experienced writers make. No one writes perfect drafts first time. Thank F, else I’d be out of a job…

  7. I think what’s different for me as an older writer is that I am much better at taking criticism. When I was a sensitive twenty-something you couldn’t say anything critical to me even if it was couched in te most supportive terms. But then I had a different life, I was training to be a silversmith. Decades later, I am not so insecure. I don’t mean that as a generalisation, I think it’s just me.

  8. I am an older writer and a late starter. I often wish I’d started younger so that i would (in theory)be more successful now, having put in the necessary years of hard graft. However, I try to imagine the sort of self-centred crap i would have produced 20 years ago and how my fragile ego would have reacted to criticism!

    Totally agree with Chris about life experience, but the magic ingredients need to be there in the first place.

    I have read stuff written by twenty-somethings trying to project themselves into 30-somethings lives and failing dismally (IMO) but Lionel Shriver (childless) wrote a very convincing, chilling book about motherhood. Talent?

  9. I started in earnest at 37, which for me was about right. For about five years before that, I wrote novels and stories, but they were all crap. Good ideas in them, but I never finished anything I wanted to show anybody. Until This time ’05. That’s when I figured out that screenwriting was for me. I was 38.

    I see no reason why a young person can’t write well. Observation, imagination compassion and empathy go a long way, and don’t necessarily come with age. I find it intriguing that writers’ biographies are so varied. Except for poets. I think they do start young as a rule. But speaking personally, I was ‘no longer young’ when I started producing good work.

  10. Elinor – my mother always says that you increase in confidence as you get older. I’m waiting!

    Hope – interesting that you believe your younger self would be more “self-centered”. What would this have meant in terms of your writing do you think, what type of stories do you believe you would have produced?

    Pillock – I agree, poets do seem to start young. And I’m unconvinced that a young person has no empathy or maturity of observation in their writing. But you only started in ’05? And you’re already a Blue Cat semi finalist?? Sounds like you picked the right choice!

  11. Dastardly sex: After the act, (which leaves you on the floor thinking you may never walk again) the bloke steals your stereo system on the way out of the house, twirling his moustache and chuckling evilly.

  12. That sounds fun Elinor! My stereo is worth shit-all anyway. Tho I could never do it with a fella who has a moustache. Or a beard. Yuk.

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