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Daniel Kemp

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Do you think that age makes you a better writer or the writing of many stories makes you so?

I propose a discussion on the value of experience of life as an asset, when it comes to the writing of stories.

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  • Feb 9 2013: It's probably a combination of both. Personally, I didn't start really writing until my late 30's. I dabbled in journals and such but my attention span when I was young was lacking, greatly. I started writing on a fluke because I had a story to tell - mine (two personal things happened within a few years of each other) and had a huge desire to get it out. So I wrote!

    Then I discovered I loved to write, albeit I was terrible. Over the last 5 years, and LOTS of writing later, I now can say I am a better writer. And reading other's helps me as well. I don't have time to read many books, but reading short stories and blog posts of some writers that I truly admire allows me to gain some knowledge about how powerful putting words in a certain order can be....now if I only I could be a better proofreader....haha

    One more point, which I got from a writer I truly admire, write out of your comfort zone. You may publish it and then think, "why the hell did I do that." It's scary being a writer and exposing your thoughts and feelings for the world to read. However, no one ever learns anything from being safe, do they? Who do you think is better at taking risks: young writers or more experienced ones?
  • Feb 10 2013: I think that writing involving a world of fantasy can be accomplished at almost any age. However, when it comes to deeper intellectual subjects such as spirituality, psychology, philosophy, sociology, etc., subjects that require some insight into behaviors of people and the mysteries of life, then age is a prerequisite.
    • Feb 10 2013: Extremely valid points Linda, thank you.
    • Feb 10 2013: I completely agree, Linda. There are some things that require experience, and at least rudimentary education on the subjects, especially the examples you have given. If a person is attempting to write about sociology, but has no experience with other cultures or sub-cultures of society, it becomes nothing more than a reiteration of facts from research.
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    Feb 9 2013: I also think it can be a combination of both age and what you have inside of you. But either can get better with practice and continued learning.
  • Feb 9 2013: I don't think that age or writing experiences make you a better writer. It is imagination that is within us. I have enjoyed reading since I was five years old. I love going to the library and read books that were there.

    At the same age, I started telling my brothers stories of far away places that had princess and shining knight that slay the dragon. And dwarfs, fairies, wizards and animals that lived in the palace.

    Now I am writing a book for children and Young Adults.

    It isn't experiences, it is what is inside of you.

    Happy writing.
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    Feb 9 2013: Writing encompasses both ideas and craft. As Pat writes, honing the craft takes time. That wouldn't necessarily mean that a writer keeps getting better and better. There may be a peak and then a decline. A person's last book will not always be his best.

    In terms of ideas, experience certainly helps, but some people can get great creative leverage out of an event or sequence of events that ended when they are not yet old.

    I believe that if one examines the record of achievement of poets, their greatest works arise when they are young. It would be later for novelists. Simonton (1975) is the best known source on this.
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    Feb 9 2013: IMO the best writers have this attribute but to get good at something it takes practice. Dr. K. Anders Ericsson talks about it requires 10,000 hours of practice to accomplish this.
    • Feb 10 2013: In reply to Pat Gilbert: The only trouble with your quote is that practising a bad habit for 1000 hours will not make one very successful, it will lead in the opposite direction.
      Personally speaking, I would say that nothing makes up for a lack of imagination and the grasp of reality. Fantasy is find but relies utterly on imagination where experience gained in aging plays no part. However, to write good prose, and great conversation, then a life of variety must be the foundation on which to build. The adage....'Write about what you know' is nonsense in one respect, as it curtails imagination unless the work is autobiographical. But again that advice is priceless if it is life experience that aids that prose and conversation.
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        Feb 10 2013: Can you give me examples of writers who used creativity to such an extent that experience was unimportant?

        I think of Tom Clancy, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Joseph Wambaugh, Ayn Rand as these authors lived what they were writing about and could paint the picture with all of it's nuances. (and don't give me any shit about Ayn Rand)

        Admittedly I'm not the most read but that is how I see it.
        • Feb 10 2013: Experience in my opinion is vital but so is creativity. Dickens for example lived through poverty, but never experienced all the degradation that he wrote about. My argument would be, that with experience comes creativity if we are lucky, or skillful enough, to use what we have gained in life.
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        Feb 10 2013: Duly noted.
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    Feb 10 2013: I think the structure and delivery of a story is different from other forms of prose, like a novella or a full fledged book. I am not sure if you are using the word 'story' rather loosely to mean writing (some comments make me believe that possibly that's what you meant) in general.
    Imagination plays a more important role for short stories than skilful plotting and layering of the content, where experience is more necessary. As for writing in general, imagination and experience are both equally important. Good writers are keen observers too and this observation gets enriched with experience.
    • Feb 10 2013: I'm sorry that I wasn't clearer Pabitra, I did indeed mean writing.
  • Feb 10 2013: As others have said it's down to imagination and the ability to transfer that into words, age is less a factor than ability. That said, like with any art form you improve with experience so it depends on where your natural ability places you at the start of your journey. Some people have a natural ability to tell a story and will always outshine those who have less talent.
  • Feb 10 2013: Danny, I don't think age plays a significant role in writing abilities. However, at the same time there does seem to be a marked difference in the style of writing between young and old writers. Those of us who are over the age of 40 were taught in a much different manner than the younger generations. We were required to read the actual works of classic authors, analyze those works, flesh out the meanings of those works, and even know the history of those authors as people. I always like to use Charles Dickens and Emily Dickinson as examples, because they are household names world wide.

    Today, the younger generations are shown the movies of those classic works, rather than requiring the students to read them. Some young people will wait for the movie to come out of popular books, instead of reading the book itself. Stories are even generated in the forms of video games. What I see happening is the vocabulary of the younger generations is dwindling, which has an effect on their writing skills. There's a tendency to tell their stories vs. show them, and also carry their stories with dialogue. In some cases, lots and lots of dialogue. It seems to be in direct relation of trying to present their story as a visual art rather than in writing.

    Experience is crucial to the validity of any story, and lack of that experience sticks out like a sore thumb in some novels. If I tried to write a book about Amelia Earheart it would be a sorry piece of prose as I know nothing about airplanes or flying in general. I could write many books on flying, but if I know nothing about it, and / or have limited experience there's no credibility in the works, and I'm no better off in book 50 than I was in book 1.

    Great topic.
    • Feb 10 2013: I can find nothing to disagree with you there Donna. One point would be to reinforce your argument, the advent of easily published ebooks which are full of bad grammar and profane language.
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      Feb 10 2013: Donna, I think the aim in many schools in teaching writing has been quite different in the last couple of decades than it may have been in the old days. The aim is, I believe, very much to focus on getting kids to present their ideas in an authentic way and more specifically for all students to think of themselves as writers, rather than thinking of writing as an esoteric sort of practice of the few.

      From this we get a greater variety of ideas and experiences shared in public via blogs and other media as well as a proliferation of poorly written ebooks.
  • Feb 9 2013: In reply to Pat Gilbert: The only trouble with your quote is that practising a bad habit for 1000 hours will not make one very successful, it will lead in the opposite direction.
    Personally speaking, I would say that nothing makes up for a lack of imagination and the grasp of reality. Fantasy is find but relies utterly on imagination where experience gained in aging plays no part. However, to write good prose, and great conversation, then a life of variety must be the foundation on which to build. The adage....'Write about what you know' is nonsense in one respect, as it curtails imagination unless the work is autobiographical. But again that advice is priceless if it is life experience that aids that prose and conversation.
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      Feb 10 2013: Daniel, people are much more likely to see your replies to them if you click the Reply button you see to the far right of their names and then put your reply in the box that appears immediately below.

      You are right, of course, that spending 10,000 hours on something is no guarantee of developing mastery. One could be practicing bad habits, as you say, simply misunderstanding everything one is studying, or engaging in a 10,000 hour confirmation bias fest!

      In the terms of logic, there is a far better case for its being a necessary condition than for its being a sufficient one.
      • Feb 10 2013: Thank you for the advice Fritzie, I didn't know that. Unfortunately it's 1am here and I'm tired so I will have to say goodnight to you and this discussion. I will pick up the thread in the morning.
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      Feb 10 2013: I don't see that happening. Unless there is no goal even then...
  • Feb 10 2013: I believe that imagination is the greatest tool in a writers bag, without that then a story becomes a recital of facts. Imagination comes from all walks of life but the ability to accumulate that resource comes, I believe, with age. We are limited by that ability to imagine by are surroundings and our perceptions; experience. An architect for example becomes more creative by the forming of ideas based on previous knowledge, thereby in the most successful of those, stretching the mind and the concepts of building. Our minds are one of the greatest gifts we have, but the gift of using them is not given to all.
  • Feb 10 2013: This is a similar question that continuously haunts me when applied in different context focusing on innovation. Does age make you a better or worse innovator, or does creating many innovations make you a better innovator? Is there such thing as the most creative years of your life?

    background...


    Years back I attended a talk a t a university in where a local entrepreneur/business man was speaking about his road to success. It was a lengthy discussion but one thing that stood out and stuck with me to this day was his philosophy on a attack now approach stating that in a persons short life time the years he/she experiences between 20 and 30 would be and is the most creative and innovative time of there life.

    Years later and on back nine of this imaginary? time frame I have yet to create or contribute any life changing ideas. Will I ever?

    While I dont 100% agree with this philosophy (I can name numerous entrepreneurs past this threshold) I can see some reasoning behind it (a young person tends to have less responsibilities financially/family allowing for more risk) it occasionally haunts me and I ask myself, what if what he said is true...

    I pose to you TED community, is there a time frame where one will experience and then peak on their creative capabilities?
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      Feb 10 2013: There is scholarly research on this point based on the study of hundreds of creative people. The ages of peak creative achievement vary greatly by discipline. Lyric poets, mathematicians, and theoretical physics types tend to peak early, but many disciplines peak later without great decline for many years.
    • Feb 10 2013: It is a possibility Ian that when we are young we have more time to experiment, life is not so tied down by responsibilities. We innovate during all of our life in one way or another though, do we not?