Older writers – you’re an asset!
Posted on September 15, 2015 in Blog
In our youth obsessed society, it’s no joke trying to maintain the bags of confidence and enthusiasm required to forge a new writing career in midlife, on top of trying to get your work noticed by an agent or a publisher.
It’s easy to forget that we, more mature writers, have much to contribute, so why not start thinking of your age as an asset?
I went back to university at the age of forty to study a full-time English & Creative Writing degree, then I went on to study a MA in Creative Writing. I got agent representation and my first book deal with Macmillan Children’s Books at the age of 45. My debut novel, Smart, was published in hardback in 2014 and in paperback 2015.
For the last fifteen years I have worked as a self-employed school bursar and for the last three years since getting my first book deal I have juggled two careers, writing every morning before work, between 6 and 8 am. I finally finished the day job and became a full-time writer in July 2015.
Now in my late forties, I have just finished writing my second young adult novel, A Seven Letter Word, which will be published in hardback March 2016, and I have come to the conclusion that coming to writing in later life is a bonus. Here’s why.
Writers in their forties, fifties, sixties and older have lots to offer. We have seen a lot of life, met a lot of people. We have a rich seam to mine when it comes to writing believable characters and fleshing out ideas with our own experiences.
We perhaps know ourselves a little better than we used to do in our younger days and this helps us write the stuff we’re good at. I write young adult novels and anyone that reads YA knows it’s such an exciting time for authors and readers right now, where boundaries are being pushed, diversity is celebrated and writers have a lot more freedom to try something different.
One of the nice things about being a little more mature is that we don’t feel such a pressure to follow the trend. We don’t have to break boundaries or feel ‘uncool’ if we’re not exploring previously untrodden ground. I write novels for young people that meet my own values and beliefs. I like a sense of hope in my stories, particularly at the end. I like the young reader to learn something while they are reading the book and I prefer not to fill the story with expletives.
It’s probably not a very cool thing to admit but I make no apologies for that. This is the kind of writer I am. I’ve known me for a long time and that gives me the conviction to write the way I want to. And when I’m writing the way I want to, good stuff comes out.
This blog is all about being age positive so I’m not going to spoil it by talking about that way older writers’ hips can stiffen up if they sit with the laptop for too long and how writing in bed can make that lower back ache worse. No way, we don’t want to go there. After all, fifty is the new thirty, right?
BUT there are a few simple guidelines I thought I’d mention that have helped me along the way as a mature author, writing for very young readers.
- Guard against using clichés. This is good advice for any writer of any age but I think that when people a little more mature, we can sometimes fall into using tired phrasing instead of working a bit harder to come up with fresher prose.
- As we get older our views can change on lots of things. It’s particularly important when writing middle-grade or YA to really consider the viewpoint of your character. Having lived a reasonable number of years, we are often able to look at things philosophically (and yes, yes, we’re very often right) but ask yourself, what would be important to a twelve or fourteen year old? What are the issues that might seem insurmountable to a younger person?
- In my second novel, A Seven Letter Word, my main character, Finlay has a bad stutter. When I took time to really put myself in his mind set, I realised school wasn’t just an inconvenience or somewhere that was difficult for him to be, school was an absolute nightmare, a horror. Speaking up in class and even saying his own name were obstacles that caused him extreme stress and pressure. This really gave me something to work with in certain scenes, helping me reveal the emotional truths.
- Don’t try and get down with the kids, Yo! Don’t try and be trendy. It won’t work and it will date your writing. Street speak changes virtually every week and by the time your novel is published, you may well find your book is littered with very uncool phrases.
- As with any genre, take the time to research if you’re not sure of details. When I wrote Smart, I made a few references to the computer game, Call of Duty. I had a character progressing through the ‘levels’ of the game and my editor, Rachel, pointed out that this was the wrong terminology, the right word was ‘waves’. Young people will pick up on this stuff. They don’t like it when we get it wrong.
- Speak to young people, ask them what they’re reading, ask them what their favourite band is. I got the opportunity to chat to some year 7 & 8 students at a recent awards ceremony I attended. I got talking to a group of girls who were truly devastated at the (then) breaking news that a member of the band, One Direction, was leaving. A couple of the girls got really upset and it reminded me how hard young people can take things that adults don’t give a second thought to.
As writers, we need to take note of it all, remember how it felt. Use it.