I’ve been writing consistently since I was twelve, which means I’ve now been writing for the (amazingly long very short?) period of twenty-two years. In that time, almost as much about my writing has changed as has remained the same.
This is something I’ve been casually pondering for a while now. Then, last week, I received the following email from David Hall:
Down the street I can see 70 years coming toward me. A few more months and it will be impossible to avoid. Have you ever discussed age and how it affects the material we write?
For starters, let me say that this one of my favorite types of email to receive—those sent to me by older writers who are either just starting out or are still going strong. With this year’s birthday, I will reach the moment in my life where fifty is as near to me in the future as twenty is in the past (and since I still feel like I’m a seventeen-year-old who was somehow given a fake ID, I’m experiencing a mild case of shock over the realization). It is deeply inspiring to me to realize how much can yet be accomplished in the years still before me.
I’m also beginning to realize that whatever those years bring, I will almost certainly be surprised by their offerings. Certainly, the effects on my experiences as a writer are vastly different to me as an adult than they were when I was a child. Indeed, since I never expected things to change at all in that regard, the differences I’ve encountered have all been tremendous surprises, sometimes disturbing, sometimes delightful.
Although at present, I can offer only a limited amount of personal insight into the how your age affects your writing (no doubt David could offer a good deal more himself), since I was asked I thought it might be a fun topic to explore. This is especially so in light of the fact that the readers who frequent this site present a vast variance in age—and also because this is, inevitably, a topic that touches us all.
Interestingly enough, this idea of life evolution and how age affects our perspective of and impact on life is one I’ve lately been exploring from the lens of story theory. As I’ve teased a few times on the podcast, I’m currently wrapping up research for a new blog series that will explore successive archetypal character arcs, which are representative of the seasons—or acts—of life.
As a sneak peak, since it ties in with today’s subject, I believe we see the pattern of story structure’s Three Acts played out in the typical human lifetime—in which approximately thirty years comprises each act.
The First Act—roughly, our first thirty years—is largely about defining our relationships with ourselves and our own personal identities. When the archetypal arcs of those years are properly completed, they lay the foundation for healthy arcs in the following acts.
The Second Act, made up of roughly the next thirty years, is focused on our relationships with others—friends, mates, children, community.
Finally, the Third Act—what for most of us will be the last thirty or so years in this life—then becomes the climactic act, which focuses on our relationship to Life and Death itself, in all its transcendent mystery.
Even though I began studying these “life arcs” as a way to further develop my understanding of how to structure my characters’ arcs in the most resonant way, the reason these arcs are archetypal is because they necessarily first apply to our own lives. Because I can already see the First and now the Second Acts playing out in my life, I believe the archetypal principles of the Third will ring true as well.