It seems I have mentioned this one before, but a recent conversation sparked a thought that has been rotoring around in my brain for a while, and I decided it was worth discussing. Here’s how it all started:
A co-worker at my day job and I decided to grab lunch together and I offered to drive. We hopped in my Mustang (referred to as the Mimi-mobile), and I started the engine. Much to my coworker’s shock and awe, the radio began blasting the local rock station (I believe it was Papa Roach’s “Burn”). I quickly adjusted the volume and laughed that this was how I stayed awake for the drive in the mornings (it’s 35 miles door-to-door!). My co-worker gave me an awkward smile and said, “I would never have figured you as a fan of that music.” Naturally, my reply was, “Why not?” to which she said, “Well, aren’t you kind of old for that sort of stuff?”
Now, the really funny part of this is that this same co-worker was stunned when I first started working there to find out I was 10 years older than she thought I was. But the “kind of old” statement really bugged me. I’m really not that old, and really don’t feel anything close to my actual age. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I am really about 17 at heart.
This is a frequent discussion among many children’s writers. We often ask each other, “Where did you get stuck?” Some of us got stuck in more than one place! I sometimes feel like I never made it past 14. Some children’s writers have elaborate horror stories as to why they can only write for a certain age group, and others – like me – just find that it’s a comfortable place for our writing voice. Of course, this is not to say we can’t stretch and write older or younger characters. Obviously, limiting ourselves to one specific age would limit the stories we could tell.
But here is the thing that I have been perseverating on for a few days: does my age actually matter to my writing? What I’ve decided is – yes . . . and no.
My age gives me the advantage of experience. I’ve been hanging around the planet longer, so being an observant type, I’ve picked up on somethings and tucked them away in my brain cells for later use. Age gives me a little advantage over – say – the 14-year-old kid who wants to write a novel. Much as I love 14-year-olds (and I really do!), it’s pretty rare that one has a profound insight into the human condition. I also have the benefit of having been doing this writing thing for about 16 years (that is, actively seeking publication), and I’ve made a lot of mistakes, so I know what to look out for. This is one that my friend and writing partner Jared is finding out about (BTW – check out his blog listed on my blog roll as Jared S. Anderson). I can spot a scam at 50 paces, and I can find sources for things like agents and workshops in record time.
My “advanced age” (yes, I laughed as I wrote that), also gives me a perspective on a story that someone younger won’t have. I write for teens because I still identify with them. I’ve raised (am still raising) three of them. I’ve hung out with them and with their friends, and I find them to be fascinating and delightful and challenging critters! And truthfully, I like a lot of what they like – not all, mind you, but quite a bit.
But there is a point at which my age has no bearing on this. I am an eclectic combination of events, choices, likes, dislikes, influences, and discoveries. My age has nothing to do with the music I like, the things I enjoy doing, my core beliefs, or my dreams. And it has nothing to do with my writing. Good thing, too. How could I write a believable character of any sort if I allowed my age to dictate my writing? I would have only one narrow perspective and it would be nearly impossible to write anything interesting coming from that point of view. If all I did was use my real-life experiences, my own beliefs, my current state of mind to draw from, I’d be done as a writer. Writing is about pushing beyond ourselves, surpassing our own limits, stepping out of our comfort zones and treading in those places that we are “too old” to be in – or too young, or too white, or too female, or . . . well, you get the idea.
I like – LOVE – being an anomale: the “old” lady who listens to metal music, the girl born and raised in Utah who is not and never has been Mormon, the English major who can’t spell without a dictionary (and spell check!), the mom of three who has multiple tattoos – etc. I love seeking new experiences that I’m “too old” to be doing (getting ready to start Roller Blading again!). I haven’t built a blanket fort in a few months, so it’s probably time to do that again. All these things make me a better writer, allow me to look at things from a new perspective, and help me relate to my characters and their situations in a realistic way. I will start acting my age when I figure out exactly what age I am, so it may take a while. Until then, I’m going to crank up some Metallica, play Raving Rabbids on the Wii, and forget I’ll be a grandma in about 2 months.
Act my age indeed. Pblpftht. : p