Older Adults Never Truly Start from Scratch

Have you dreamed of learning something brand spanking new?

Posted Oct 18, 2019

Lately, I have been sharing on social media about a new journey I am about to take, speaking as if I can snap my fingers and suddenly my dream can come true. It’s screenplay writing. Truth is, anything new you embark upon (especially if you are close to my age) sounds like a fantasy at first. 

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To me, screenplay writing has always been an elusive art form, even though writing is what I do for a living. I am that weird person who orders the movie DVD and instantly goes to the “special features” to see how it was made as well as “meet” the writer who made the movie possible. While I admire the hell out of successful novelists, writing for the screen is about making a story come alive before the audience’s eyes. Without the luxury of describing anything ahead of time, the screenplay writer must portray what is happening through sound, scenery, the characters he or she has created, and the viewer’s emotion as the story unfolds. 

So what about you? Have you ever dreamed of learning something brand spanking new but shrugged off the idea of it, thinking you should have attacked it earlier in life? Are you fascinated by those articles that pop up listing all those individuals who changed or created new careers after age 50 but don’t see yourself ever being added to that list, even figuratively?

A few of my friends seemed entertained by my plans, asking how I intend to sell my first screenplay by age 70—something I have already put out there. My reaction? I simply ask them what I have to lose; if I am going into this with nothing and end up coming out with nothing, it’s the middle part that keeps this from becoming a zero-sum equation. I can honestly say I once wrote a screenplay (OMG that already sounds wonderful to me). Or several screenplays. I learned a new and exciting language I never had even heard before. Nora Ephron (of When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle fame) spent many years as a journalist before trying her hand at screenplay writing. No one will say I am a “failed” screenplay writer. They will just lump this effort into all the other careers I have tried, enjoyed, and moved on from. (Note: nearly 4 years ago I began blogging for Psychology Today by blindly “pitching” my ideas to the editor and sending her a sample post. As I said, I had nothing to lose). 

When I sat down and tried to write my very first short story (cute, but a non-starter) it turned out more like a treatise on my own life instead of fiction. Somewhat entertaining but never gripping. I asked a few writer friends to take a look and while their comments were kind as well as encouraging, I wanted brutal. I wanted someone to tell me I am one card shy a deck to think that I could ever write fiction. I regrouped.

There are no shortcuts. While I can listen to books and experts on Audible and send away to Amazon for the rest for my collection, all it will do is make me think I am taking this journey. So I decided to start with the basics—an in-person class with a coach who teaches fiction. Someone who will force me to look deeper into the structure of story—who will give me no choice but to use my imagination. Admittedly, in a few weeks I will go kicking and screaming into writing fiction, but I will not have regretted the process. Not for a second.

Sixty and Me’s Margaret Manning put it this way: “Contrary to popular belief, older entrepreneurs can be just as successful as their younger counterparts. We are better connected, have a lifetime of experience and just know how to get things done. Unfortunately, many of us have great ideas, but, our own fears and insecurities hold us back. Now is the time to fix our mindset and give ourselves credit for our passion, skills and experience.”

As for those connections? By my age, they are everywhere but I never even thought about them. Aside from a few Facebook posts announcing my intentions, the Law of Attraction began taking over, bringing people back into my life I had long thought of as mere acquaintances. A foreign movie producer I had met on LinkedIn through a friend had just moved to the U.S. and we suddenly began a dialogue after many years of non-communication. He has now become a mentor, encouraging me at every turn. Another (unforgettable) person I met long ago through Facebook (an already successful screenplay writer) with whom I became buds is coaching me by responding to every question I ask. His latest response? “Oh, I fully expect your FIRST screenplay to suck (but be salvageable), and your second one will be great. You don’t shy away from hard lessons. You’re running at this like a quarterback.” Music to my ears. He tells me when I am a bit further along, he intends to come up here for a visit so we can watch a few movies together and he can point out the technical parts of what we are watching. 

Have I convinced you to pursue something new? Here are the steps I recommend you take, even though I am just taking them myself:

  • Don’t let anyone squash your enthusiasm. Whether you want to learn a new language, become a tour guide, start your own blog or develop a program to help people, this is YOUR journey and no one else’s. It’s not their job to assess your readiness or your talents unless they are the ones paying for/benefitting by it.
  • Do your research. See what it takes to do this. A class? Sweep floors and work your way up? Studying whether others became successful at something is useless. You have nothing to lose (geez, I say that a lot, don’t I?).
  • Don’t keep your plans a secret. Tell friends and family of your dreams in person, by phone or through social media. Honestly, people come out of the woodwork to support you. The ones who think you’re nuts usually say nothing. It’s not an ego thing — it’s garnering the enthusiasm of people who are happy to be the “flies on the wall” as you take this journey.
  • Start with the basics. I once tried taking an online writing course and it was a bust for me. I am not an online kind of student. I need a live body in front of me I can harass for more information, guidance, and ideas. Whatever you are trying to learn, there is always someone out there who might let you pick their brains and who has been-there-done-that. Most people who have done what you are about to do are honored to be asked about their journey. Plain and simple: people like to talk about the experiences that made them who they are.

12th century theologian Robert Hooke once said (often mistakenly attributed to Sir Isaac Newton): “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”