Hey, Pamie: “Am I Too Old To Be a Screenwriter?”

Posted by on Dec 18, 2012 · 6 Comments

It’s very tempting to answer this question with one word.

Hi Pamie,

I just discovered your site a few weeks ago and you are one of my new favorite people. :)

Discovering your site was also a bit of Kismet because I’m a writer who’s been circling around the idea of writing a screenplay for about a year now. (I only ever wrote novels before). I know one of your biggest pieces of advice to aspiring screenwriters is to get themselves to Hollywood. Well, I’m already there! Lived near LA my whole life!

But now, I’m having a different worry…am I too old to start pursuing screenwriting? Don’t laugh: I’m 27. I know I’m not exactly ancient, but isn’t Hollywood a YOUNG person’s game? I know it’ll probably be at least a couple years before I write anything remotely good screenplay-wise. And it will probably be longer than that before I might see any kind of success (if at all). And I’m just worried that by the time I’ve got a handle on this screenwriting thing all the whippersnappers coming up behind me will steal all the work because Hollywood likes ‘em young.

Am I just being crazy paranoid? Should I just keep writing and let the chips fall where they may?

Thanks,
Beth

Beth, you are 27. You aren’t too old for most things. You can probably still get away with pigtails, knee socks with happy faces on them, having a shot of tequila after a night of drinking any other kind of liquor, texting an ex and having it still somehow come off as adorable, crying in public, joining an “artistic collective,” claiming you don’t know how to make a cup of coffee, or having a refrigerator with only condiments inside.

You are a baby. In terms of being a writer, you are just at the point where people will begin to think you have something to say that’s worth saying. You are now supposed to have “lived” and “experienced things” and learned a bit of the craft. You say you’ve written novels, so it’s not like you just wandered into a room and said, “I’d like to try this whole storytelling thing. Do I need a pen or a laptop?”

And yes, it will take a while before you think you’ve written something good, but the truth is you could already be a working screenwriter for years before you think you’ve written something good. Unless you’re talking about selling everything you own to live in a trailer for a year determined to write one screenplay that will sell immediately and support you for the rest of your life, I don’t think there’s any reason to evaluate whether or not you can “try” screenwriting.

Anybody can find out if they want to be a screenwriter. No matter where you live. Because the very first step is to write a screenplay. For anyone. If you haven’t done that yet, you aren’t deciding if you want to be a screenwriter. Nobody has offered to let you be one yet. There’s no sale. There’s no producer giving you a call. You don’t even have something to print or email. Write the script. See how that feels. Then see if you feel like writing another one.

Listen: Many of you won’t finish that first one, and a whole lot more of you won’t feel like writing that second one. And that’s okay. It means you didn’t want to be a screenwriter. But don’t blame it on your age or your location or your parents or your kids or your spouse or your job or The Black List.

Beth, you say you’ve been thinking about writing a screenplay for a year now. You could have already written it in that time! Even if you only spent half an hour every other day for this entire year, you could have written it. If you only wrote on Sunday evenings, or during American Idol or when you normally check your favorite hate-read — you could have written it by now. And then you’re closer to asking this question about your age and if it’s worth it. Are you worried you’ll be wasting your time writing a script that won’t sell? Because if that’s what stopped people from writing scripts nobody would write a single script because the reality is the massive majority of them don’t sell. Even for the writers who are professional screenwriters — most of them have unpublished scripts sitting somewhere, collecting dust.

But those scripts, if they were good, probably got them meetings and opportunities. Those scripts opened doors and made connections. Those scripts were discussed and sent around and brought them into the world of screenwriting. No matter how old they were. Your age isn’t printed on your script. You don’t even have to use your real name. If your writing is good, if your story is strong, people will want your script. Case in point: I don’t have a produced feature credit, but I’ve sold and optioned screenplays, and continue to get work in features.

Sidenote: I’m not crazy enough to try to make a living off of being a screenwriter alone. I couldn’t. Nor could I afford a roof over my head if I were only a novelist. If you think being a screenwriter is something you just become and then do for a living, like a normal-person trade, you are mistaken. You will have other jobs while you are pursuing screenwriting, and odds are you will have other jobs while you’re actively a screenwriter.

Don’t look for excuses not to write. Look for time to get it finished. That’s so much more important, and something you actually need to write a screenplay. You need time. Find it and use it. I suggest using all the time you’re spending wondering if it’s worth it to start typing and find out if it was.

Have you ever thought the odds were stacked against you, only to learn your biggest obstacle was yourself? Think Beth needs more tough-love, or do you think she has a good point and I’m being naive? Share your story in the comments below.

If you have a question about writing for television or novels or screenplays or any of these places where I write words and other people read them, send an email to pamie at pamie dot com with the subject line: YOUR WEEKLY PROCRASTINATION.

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6 Comments

  1. Rachel
    December 18, 2012

    Oh, Beth.
    If you’re too old then I’ve got one foot in the grave.
    Not a screenwriter, though I went to film school for it after my BA and took a year of my life to try to “make it” but I am eeking out a tiny income writing.
    Like Pamie said, the best advice I’ve been given was to aim to write for a living. That means have a lot of pots on the stove. Freelance, blog, technical writing, screenwriting, whatever.
    So write your novels and your screenplays. Try and sell them. If you want to write for a living you’ll do it in many forms.
    Shit, that was just a pep talk to myself. Pumped. Will go rip out a few pages on the next book I want to self-publish.

    Reply
  2. Jen
    December 18, 2012

    I still want to make some money at the writing thing and I’m 43. Keep at it. Squeeze the screenplay writing in whenever you can and see where it goes. It’s all about creating connections. Your writing will do that. You may find that your screenplays don’t pan out but they lead you down another avenue you never expected.

    Reply
  3. Mike Sundy
    December 18, 2012

    Great article, Pam!

    Beth, I started screenwriting at age 28 and I was also worried about being too old. It’s now ten years later and I’m closer to my dream. It takes much longer than you would ever think. I thought it would take me a couple of years tops, but I was naive. I read a book with interviews with a bunch of pro screenwriters and it said that their average time to break in was 10 years. That’s why it’s important to love writing for its own sake and not necessarily for financial gain. I’ve had a lot of fun writing scripts over those 10 years and seeing people respond to my work. I feel that the act of writing has value in and of itself. You learn a lot about yourself and the people around you. But you’ll never know if you love it unless you actually put in the time and write some scripts.

    Reply
  4. Kates
    December 19, 2012

    WHERE. IS. BABY?

    Reply
  5. Desiree
    December 20, 2012

    Beth,
    I have a suggestion that you can take or not. I’m not a screenwriter. In fact, I’m a scientist. All of my publications are in scientific journals. What I’ve learned from being a writer, but also being a scientist, is that if I ever wrote anything that was not a science-related manuscript, it would be either an autobiographical novel or a play. I am 36, and the way I figured out that I might want to write plays was by being in them–figuring out how they work technically by doing the work in my spare time. So my suggestion is to audition at a community theater, be in at least one play, see how it works, and then watch a lot of movies and a lot of plays and think about how what you might have to say is different from what other people have to say, and then write your play. Anything that you write for the stage can be adapted to the screen. Everything else is just B.S. CGI. Also, I suggest watching a lot of movies from the 60s-80s, to kind of find your place in terms of what’s possible without B.S. CGI. For example, _The Fugitive_ does amazing things, without CGI, and has stood the test of time. So good luck, and I hope you write something. Either way, taking your time to really understand how it works is useful. For example, clothing changes. On a back porch of the theater. In the snow, at night, with the occasional creepy dude. You don’t know about that kind of stuff till you’ve lived it.

    Reply

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