“My biggest fear is that I’m too old, if you want to know the truth,” she said.
I was on the phone with a new client, it was our second session together, and we had begun digging into the deep ugly roots of her crippling self doubt and writer’s block. I wasn’t surprised that one of the first monsters to jump out of her closet was the fear of being too old. The very first screenwriter I ever consulted revealed the same fear to me—and he had only just turned 30.
“I’m scared that everyone successful in the field is younger than me, I’m scared I missed my chance. Most of all, I’m scared that I’m just going to make a fool out of myself. I’m coming up on 48 and I know I’m no spring chicken anymore.” My current client said.
I’ve heard variations of these statements from a few different clients. Sometimes the age is 52, or 34, or the writer is even in his or her 20s. But the actual number doesn’t matter. What’s important is that the writer believes wholeheartedly that there is a magic age by which to realize a dream, and he or she has now passed it. I’ve found this is especially true for screenwriters, whose trade usually puts them in greater contact with a Hollywood culture that believes youth and beauty are the only things that matter.
“Those who succeed in an outstanding way seldom do so before the age of 40. More often, they do not strike their real pace until they are well beyond the age of 50.”
― Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich
The quote is sometimes a tough one for my clients to swallow, and it might be tough for you to accept as well. But you can change your thinking. First, you have to shed the negativity you have about your age. After that, you have to drench yourself in generous amount of positive thinking. If not, you risk letting a life dream of becoming a writer and bringing your stories to the world die because you are caught up in the numbers game.
If you’re 45-years-old and you really believe that you’re over the hill, then, guess what, you’re over the hill. If you feel you’re slowing down in life and you have no chance of making it as a screenwriter then guess what, you don’t. But see how silly that sounds when you read it? You’re missing opportunities right in front of your face because you’re telling yourself there are none.
When someone expresses interest in your screenplay, you will doubt he or she could be serious and you’ll “forget” to send it to them. You won’t mention that you’re a screenwriter when you’re chatting with someone at a party because you’ll be too embarrassed, and you won’t find out that they have amazing connections to people who are looking for something exactly like the big idea in your script. You’ll block yourself at every turn, and you won’t even be conscious that you’re the one sabotaging your dream. That is, if you continue to think this way.
“Do you really want to look back on your life and see how wonderful it could have been had you not been afraid to live it?”
― Caroline Myss, Sacred Contracts
Focusing on your age and using it as a reason to block yourself creatively is just another form of garden-variety fear. The real issue is always something else. Maybe you’re afraid of failure, or terrified of success and the increase of responsibility that it might bring into your life. Or maybe you know deep down that your family expects you to play a certain role—the quiet, submissive one who doesn’t threaten anyone else—and the achievement of your dreams will definitely upset that apple cart.
Whenever we feel fear around something that can be changed, our ever-resourceful brains will usually redirect that fear at something that cannot be changed. Because if the choice is taken away from you because of something unalterable, then it’s really not up to you, right? Wrong. I see what you’re doing. It’s a clever strategy that works extremely well. Until you catch onto the way your brain uses this trick of illusion and realize that you always have a choice, and the choice you’ve made by deciding that you’re too old to be a successful screenwriter was really a choice to give your power away.
“Men take only their needs into consideration—never their abilities.”
― Napoleon Bonaparte (from Business Wit & Wisdom by Richard Zera)
When you let other people decide whether you’re too old to produce an award-winning screenplay, you’re letting your life be dictated by a need for approval. When you sabotage your creative dreams to avoid an adverse reaction from your friends or family, you’re deciding in favor of your need for emotional control over others. But these needs will never actually be met, because no one ever receives universal approval, and no one can control the emotions of the people around them forever.
The only way to satisfy these relentless human needs is to hold your own power and use it to approve of yourself and manage your own emotions. Writing your screenplay and bringing your big idea to life can do this. Finishing your screenplay and celebrating that milestone will help even more.
Telling other people about it and giving them a chance to love it is the true test. When you’ve reached that level of confidence you’ll know you’re powerful enough to meet your own needs, and you can give all the energy you want to your abilities.
As long as you let fear run the show, you will always feel the panic about age nipping at your heels. But once you decide that you’re the one in charge of your dreams you’ll find this classic saying completely true:
Age ain’t nothin’ but a number.
55 Replies to "Who Decides How Old Is “Too Old” for a Screenwriter?"
Terry Brooks July 18, 2016 (5:40 pm)
THANK YOU for this! Im 34 years old and recently decided to follow my passion into screenwriting. Ive always been great at it and often had teachers tell me my creative stories were very nice. I had been thinking these last few weeks that i’m starting the game very late and as positive as i tried to stay, in the back of my mind it kept coming up that i feel “too old”. This article helped me realize that it’s really my fear of failure! It really helped me to put everything into perspective. I will keep at it! I will be great! My story has just begun!
Leslie Fish July 19, 2016 (4:07 am)
IIRC, some ten years ago a lot of producers were successfully sued in a group-action lawsuit precisely for age-prejudice against screenwriters. I was one of the group, and got about $9000 as a result. It’s amazing that producers have such short memories. Get together and sue ’em again, team! There’s now a precedent.
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:15 am)
Wow, I had no idea this happened Leslie! That’s great information to know and for other writers to keep in mind.
linda simeone July 19, 2016 (10:46 am)
Age is only a number. I would think most screenwriter or ANY writer, if they have a wonderful story, should never let anyone or any excuse to stop them. Life’s experiences is what makes for good stories whether you are 16, 18, 22 or 70!!! I could never get the “youthful” thing in Hollywood. They are shorting themselves some wonderful stories and talent. You don’t really see ‘screenwriters’ anyway, per se, so why should it matter if someone who is 45, 60+ wrote a new STAR TREK, STAR WARS or BOURNE IDENTITY script? If it works and the audiences love the content, why should it matter how old the writer is sitting at the laptop writing it? What if an 8 year old wrote it? Age is only a number.
Ace DeSone July 18, 2016 (5:42 pm)
Nice cheer leading effort, but that’s about it. Yes, ageism is a very real thing as a screenwriter, and when you get meetings CANCELLED because they’ve found out your age, is when it hits home.
A good friend, younger than me, had his meeting cancelled while he was at the studio gate waiting for his parking pass. His agent got chewed out for sending someone “too old.”
James July 18, 2016 (6:55 pm)
I am sure that was the reason. Lol
Parker August 5, 2016 (9:33 pm)
It’ll happen to you too. Please remember your “lol” then.
Robert Ruffo June 7, 2018 (1:05 am)
You can make yourself a victim out of any attribute – age, sex, race, height, anything. There will always be somebody out there who doesn’t like or want to work with whatever type you may be (I am a man and recently had a meeting with a prodco who later decided “they only want to hire women for the time being” ) So what. For every person who discriminates there is someone else who just doesn’t care. You can focus on the jerks who discriminate, or you can say “next”.
N Kateus July 18, 2016 (6:57 pm)
Your friend’s personal experience is very sad; it is also possibly part of the reason the industry is constantly rebooting the good-and-oldies, building sequels when a film does well, and frequently now making some really dismal failures. If the studios are that shortsighted, they deserve any heat they get for the poor products they offer up. Certainly ageism is very real; the problem is theirs, however, and as the general population ages, you can bet that the market for good films these folks will pay to see in one venue or another will also grow.
Jeff Hines July 18, 2016 (5:43 pm)
Great piece. I think about it all the time. Is writing the screenplay the main issue here, or is finding someone to produce it or purchase it ? As I approach 60, I’m starting a dissertation, just so I can consistently write and eventually get some feedback from academic peers. Yet it has kept me writing, because when writing more screenplays (which I think about everyday) I still write creatively in the academic genre, I still think visually. Its not about the age, its the exposure, any attempt and completion of the screenplay is a great indicator that the screenwriter has talent, yet the door opening with someone who wants to pay for the script ( and not disrespect you with a disrespectful price) is the challenge no matter the age of the writer. Moreover, exposing the manuscript to the proper people. Keep writing in varied genres just for some solace. Thanks
N Kateus July 18, 2016 (5:49 pm)
Unless one has been hiding under a rock instead of living, added years equate to a deeper well from which to draw inspiration, create more believable and visual characters, and situations that grab a reader’s–and viewers’ interest. All those decades of interacting with other people, places, and circumstances can generate great tools for building compelling stories. Over fifty is a great age for creatives; I now have the problem of too many ideas to get down on paper; the manuscript for a novel became a trilogy of screenplays, another became three novels instead of the original one, and so it goes. As far as screenwriting goes, I’d not want to be starting out as a twenty-something.
linda simeone July 19, 2016 (10:52 am)
Go for it. Another way to go, is simply write a novel or non-fiction book and have Hollywood buy it, also if you write a book, you get paid twice, once for the book manuscript and later, should Hollywood have interest, will pay you again and have a screenwriter turn it into a feature film or TV project. No one “cards you” for that. Over fifty is great, the older you get, you let the barriers fall away and don’t really care what people think or say about you — it’s a whole new freedom. Again, I also feel that with age, comes wisdom, life’s experiences and many adventures of which to write about. Keep a journal and never give up hope.
Anthony July 18, 2016 (5:50 pm)
I’m 29 and feeling too old to break in
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:35 am)
I have definitely been there, Anthony. I think we all have. However, after reading through all of these comments this morning I now realize I have no excuses. It’s time to take action! If you read through some of the incredibly inspirational comments from these folks you’ll feel the same way, believe me.
J. J. Hillard July 18, 2016 (5:51 pm)
Great article Lauren! Thanks for sharing it. Age is one of several diversity issues and now seems to be getting more attention.
Here are a couple of recent articles that should give hope to screenwriters of a certain age:
– Screenwriting U ProSeries 45
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:33 am)
Oh these are great! I will definitely share them on my social media channels to give my writers a boost. Thank you so much!
Karen Crider September 12, 2016 (9:36 am)
The enthusiasm and passion for writing knows no age, is not limited by a number, does not worry about laugh lines or wrinkles. To understand this is to understand freedom– mostly freedom of expression– mostly freedom.
Ross Schriftman July 18, 2016 (6:04 pm)
I started writing my script at age 60. I didn’t even think about my age. My focus was on telling my story, learning how to properly write a script, getting advice, and pursuing my dream with passion. I also just ran the Boston Marathon and climbed Mt. Everest. (oops. last one was a dream)
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:32 am)
Ross, I would not be surprised if we heard back from you next year and you DID climb Mt. Everest. It sounds like you’re a person who achieves big things.
linda simeone July 19, 2016 (10:57 am)
Ross, I am 68 and have written several screenplays, with only one being produced independently and it is very important to pursue your dreams. Good on YOU for running the Boston Marathon — as for Mt. Everest? Never give up, never surrender – did you know that you can HIKE to the Mt. Everest Base Camp? That is on MY bucket list for next year — so, you see — all things ARE possible. Don’t dream it — do it! Hope to see you at Everest Base Camp!
Ms. Brown July 18, 2016 (6:10 pm)
This article was like a god send. I needed to read this today. Nine years ago I left the corporate world behind to pursue my dreams of being a screenwriter and playwright. It has been the hardest thing I’ve done and I’ve been plagued with doubt and fear. I thought that Corporate America had robbed me of my youth and that I would not have the opportunity to be successful with my passion because of my age. In fact, I was wrestling with those thoughts today until I read this. Thank you so much for this article. It was a much needed confidence booster.
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:31 am)
Yes! You are on the right path! But the thing about being on the right path is that each path is unique. The signposts can be few and far between and sometimes you’re traveling in a total fog. That’s okay. We all feel it sometimes. The important thing is that you’re still walking forward, one step at a time.
Ron Graner July 18, 2016 (6:18 pm)
I’m 71 and having a ball writing. To hear me sing go to http://www.musicalpawns.com on a short that I wrote for BRAVO! TV and the CBC radio doc that explains what the film is about. Because I couldn’t afford to make a trailer, I rewrote my screenplay for the stage and the show won the Audience Choice Award at the 2012 FRIGID New York Theatre Festival. I began writing ’cause I was worried my voice might pack up. It hasn’t yet, but if you want to hear me sing, don’t wait another ten or 20 years. Now that I’ve made the “short” I want to make the “long”. But I’ll need an army of tweeters to raise the funds for this monster movie. At the moment I’m shooting footage and interviews for the feature doc.
Franco Guerri July 19, 2016 (12:06 am)
Ron Grainer, I loved your short, and your voice. Keep it up. I tried singing opera with a friend who was a virtuoso and a great teacher. That was in my teens, and I never tried anything quite as wonderful. Unfortunately, although I have a great larynx, I don’t have an ear for it. But writing comes in a close second to singing, and I’m much better at it. I hope you have many years of singing and many more writing! You have a talent for film making.
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:30 am)
You bring up a great point, Ron. I’m noticing that so many writers who are making it happen, going it alone, building their career from the ground up, are also some of the most innovative, creative and inventive people. With all of the opportunities the internet now offers, writers with this kind of independent spirit can really break through the barriers.
Jim Dobkins July 18, 2016 (7:22 pm)
This article is spot-on. I’m 72. Two producers jointly are considering some of my work. When others my age tell me they’re done, I remind them about Grandma Moses, the famous artist of winter scenes. She began painting commercially at 70, and enjoyed a 30-year career.
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:23 am)
That’s so cool Jim! As I read through these comments I am just blown away by the determination, the courage, and the chutzpah I’m seeing from all of you. Not only is age not stopping any of you, it seems to be a definite asset.
Star Lawrence July 19, 2016 (1:31 pm)
I am also 72. I worked at screenwriting, classes, film markets etc for 15 years in the 80s-90s of last century, had a studio option (never made, long story), and wrote and coproduced a short that won a Telly. Then I had to take 18 yrs off, move to another state and take care of my mother. When she died at 95, I had dreamed a project on two nights–and thought why not, I am writing it. It was a feature-length animation project. I wrote the feature-length sequel script while I was at it. In marketing these, I was asked by a major company if I had anything shorter, so I spun off two characters from the long scripts…The company passed (Skype meeting), but I also got started on another shorter cartoon and now am working on a third–and am cobbling together a team to teach me animation and make a 1-min trailer of one project. My daughter–34–says Mom, get off AOL, it make you seem old. I did get a gmail acct but don’t care for the system. I also based a project loosely on a book from the 30s (the 1930s, not my 30s) that my daughter says no one will ever have heard of, so I don’t mention it. I am not trying to hide my age–for one thing, I am glad to have made it this far what with some ailments. But I know it’s not a real selling point either, so I don’t call myself the Grandma Moses of screenwriting–See? You didn’t even know who Grandma was. Or some of you anyhow. The point is–we can sit around and do nothing or we can write–we don’t get younger either way.
ezedek July 18, 2016 (7:32 pm)
I think a big part of the problem is people trying to break in an industry with big $$ at the end of it. I’m 42 this year and I can say the same. I had passion for photography and film making and writing since I was a kid, but I didn’t pick up the camera and the scriptwriting till near 40. I do what I do for the passion of it. If I break in and make the big bucks, great, but if I don’t, I’ll write short film scripts and make my own movies or turn my screens to novels. Even if only 2 people read my stuff, it is still worth it, cause I’m having a blast at it.
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:21 am)
I think that’s an excellent attitude to have. I’ve worked with writers who were narrowly focused on the paycheck and completely missed the fun and enjoyment of the creative process. It really is all about the journey.
Mahesh Seelvi July 18, 2016 (8:52 pm)
Very good article. My name is Mahesh Seelvi and I am from India. I am a retired Senior Bank Manager. I worked in the Bank for 34 years. I had passion for many things at a time. I wanted to become a voice actor, an author, a screenwriter, a poet and a film maker. Will you believe I am all today. I have worked hard after the age of 50 and acquired all, I wanted. I took special training in voice overs in 2011 and now I am doing voice overs internationally. I have written 5 books and one of them have won the national award. I have written three screenplays. I have produced three serials for three TV channels. And now I am starting producing short films and then I will go for feature.Three are in hand and will be produced within two months.
Age is nothing. You may be 100 years old but your brain should work as you want. You will win the laurels in the world. So don’t think you are 20 or 100. think you have the capacity to do the work. If you aspire you acquire.
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:20 am)
So true, Mahesh. I’m much more self-aware and curious now at age 37 than I was at age 21. And I have a way better attitude as well! In my experience, the most successful people I’ve met in life are those who have continued to ask questions, learn new things, and challenge their minds every single day.
Norman Archer July 18, 2016 (11:11 pm)
At the age of 80 I had no idea what a screenplay looked like. I took an online course and at 82 I submitted my first entry to PAGE Awards. I made it to the Quarter Finals – that’s the top 10%. I am now 84 and in the process of signing a contract as the screenwriter for an IMAX Documentary called “Maximum Power” – the story of electricity – and all the funding is in for this project. Never too old!!!!
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:18 am)
That is so inspiring Norman! I am beginning to truly believe that one’s creative life really doesn’t begin until after the age of 50. And I’m starting to very much look forward to the years ahead. Thank you so much for commenting in and sharing your story, and I will definitely look up “Maximum Power” as I’m also a big Thomas Edison fan. 🙂
Norman Archer July 19, 2016 (9:56 am)
Thank you Lauren!
Entered a second screenplay in the 2016 PAGE Awards and again – just heard – it made the quarter finals! That is the top 10% out of 6,300 entries. That sure fires up one’s creative energies at 84 years young.
Bill Anderson July 19, 2016 (9:24 am)
That’s amazing Norman. Best wishes.
Bradd Hopkins July 19, 2016 (5:49 am)
I may be naïve and out of touch with the predominant Hollywood emphasis on youthfulness, and I understand that a deal is a deal with the writer…I would suggest that the reasons a writer writes change with age, and assert that the reason I write screenplays is in large part the challenge of the most difficult writing there is (IMHO). The satisfaction I get from a lean, evocative, well-crafted scene can make my day. Whether it’s real, or an anti-ageism pipe dream, I still believe that a shining work will make it to the screen, and I endeavor to write it. Story, and the need to tell and hear story, is hardwired into our neurophysiology since before campfires. Let your age control your passions, and it will. It is the journey I treasure. The destination, while important, is incidental to that.
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:14 am)
Such a beautiful outlook Bradd. Your comment gave me so much encouragement today to keep working, keep learning, and keep nurturing my own creativity. Thank you so much for this, an absolutely wonderful perspective!
Michael July 19, 2016 (6:56 am)
Fear is a silent disease all it’s own. Left untreated, it will wipe out all of your dreams. I know, I’ve lived with it for 60 years. I grew up always wanting my fathers approval, only to be sitting here today regretting what I have become and what I wished I would have done. Pursue those dreams and never look back, I know I am going to.
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:11 am)
I completely agree. So many of us struggle with not feeling good enough to have or do the things we really want in life. And usually, the phantom of a disapproving parent (or other family member) is lurking behind that feeling. The only thing we can do is forge ahead, feel the fear and do it anyway.
Quentil July 19, 2016 (8:19 am)
Thank you. It seems every time I let that negative sensor dance around in mind I am hit with one of these articles.
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:10 am)
That’s a great point. Each of us has a choice every day to choose between the negative voice in our head that tries to shut us down and the positive cheerleader in our soul that urges us to go for it. Let’s go for it!
Amber July 19, 2016 (8:33 am)
Thank you Lauren. That was even better than my morning latte!
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:08 am)
You are so welcome Amber 🙂 We all need a little pick-me-up for our creative spirit sometimes.
Christine Houston July 19, 2016 (8:43 am)
I am 80 years young. I did not start writing until I was 42. I wrote a play on a challenge. It was entered into several play writing contests and won them all. One was the “Norman Lear” play writing contest which took me to Hollywood and several years later my play became a hit NBC television series. Not only am I still writing, I went back to school, received a BA in CMAT (Communications, Media Art, and Theater) and am teaching Screen Writing and Writing For Television at Chicago State University. How’s that for an OLD writer!
Lauren Sapala July 19, 2016 (9:07 am)
That’s amazing Christine! You are a huge inspiration to all writers. And I’m so glad that you’re also teaching, as you’re passing on your knowledge AND setting an example of what is possible if you follow your dreams.
Neal July 19, 2016 (9:22 am)
Unfortunately, ageism is a thing that I’ve started to experience myself (during a nonwriting job interview last year, I caught two of my interviewers saying I was too old when I was only a few years older than they were). The only way to combat it is to keep a positive attitude and constantly produce great work. That means not resting on your laurels and doing your research so your scripts read like the writer is up to date with the industry and the world. And keep writing.
Bill Anderson July 19, 2016 (9:34 am)
I’m just over the 50 year mark. I’ve been writing professionally for 15 years for a corporation and just figured out that I’m a writer. Now I’ve started to read and take courses on writing screenplays. I find it fascinating and enriching, but there’s this part of me that you’ve nailed. Am I too old to change direction? I always come back to, I have a job and make a good living and I can fit writing scripts and taking courses on my spare time.
I want to call out all of the people who have responded here who have taken the plunge and find great satisfaction in this craft. Well done!
Finally, Lauren you have a new inspired follower!
Mike I July 19, 2016 (9:47 am)
Thanks …. A great read and reminds me of the wedding I went to last summer. The bride was 33 and the groom was 60. Asked if there could be any problems on the horizon, the groom replied, “I want children, you don’t think she’s too old?”
Todd Pliss July 26, 2016 (4:10 pm)
My name is Todd. I am a screenwriter myself, 50. I started a website, freshscreenplays.com, where anyone – of any age – can post a synopsis, logline. No fees. In the event of a sale/option, we take a 15% fee. One of our writers just had a script optioned. We do a lot of promotion and have more and more producers coming to us seeking scripts. Todd Pliss. FreshScreenplays@hotmail.com. Here’s a great article on writers who found success after age 40, sometimes much older:
C. Good July 28, 2016 (7:52 pm)
Thank you so much for this wonderful article! It’s a great reminder not to squander our potential and talents simply due to a fear of prejudices perpetuated by a youth-centric culture and media. I keep telling myself, “Self, let’s say you live another 40 years (I just turned 47 and I haven’t hit my stride just yet), well what are you going to do with all that time? That’s a long span of creative possibilities and unique ideas just waiting to boil to the surface and be fully realized and explored.”
I have an inspirational post-it note library consisting of any/every quote/sentence/observation I’ve come across that will motivate me, inspire me, and spur me on, despite the obstacles. I have this located in a place where I will see it first thing in the morning when I wake up, and the last thing I see at night, right before I go to bed.
There are several sentences from your article that I’ve just added to that library. Thank you for the inspiration…and a loving reminder/gentle and necessary kick in the ass to never give up.
Judy Kerns August 22, 2016 (4:05 pm)
These are all inspiring stories! I, too, am among the “older” generation at 62. I am just beginning to write a screenplay based on the true story of an Irish ancestor (recently discovered and who was a national hero several centuries ago) but has never been featured in a film. My daughter and I researched the history extensively and spent two weeks in Ireland last summer gathering data, visiting related historical sites, exhibits etc. We have become impassioned to tell his story and share the significance of his legacy with the world!
I left the US and moved to Lyon, France three years ago alone, with no job, limited French, didn’t know anyone here, and I now teach Business English at three elite Universities and am enjoying my new life. Voila! If I can do all that, why not write a screenplay and see what happens? “Just do it!” My personal motto since Nike came up with the slogan decades ago…
Steven Harris Anzelowitz September 4, 2016 (12:36 pm)
I am 64 years old. I have finished (2) screenplays (copyrighted) in the last (2) years. I did not START writing until I was 62. This is a powerful article to inspire all those who have the fear of age. My response: It is never too old to start living the life you’ve always wanted. And FEAR? False Evidence Appearing Real!!
Joy Merriweather September 11, 2016 (4:54 pm)
What a great article and I love, love, love the responses. I was reading another article and saw this one, which I needed to read. I too am a writer over 50, who still is going through challenges; sharing the responsibilities of a caregiver to a parent, not knowing the purpose of my life. Then I saw a quote from Caroline Myss who I happen to watch this morning on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. Thank you for the encouragement!
cat hat March 16, 2019 (5:58 pm)
I like the helpful information you supply for your articles.
I will bookmark your weblog and take a look at once
more here frequently. I’m slightly sure I’ll learn plenty of new stuff right right here!
Best of luck for the following!