Saturday, 10 November 2012

Young Writers' Month: How Young is Young?

I've seen wildly differing definitions of what a young writer is. For some, you stop being young at 18. For others the cut-off age is 21, 25 or 26. I've seen others still that consider any writer under the age of 30.

Personally I'm going to advocate for a definition that promises the widest availability of opportunities to young writers. I think it should be 30, and let me tell you why.

It's easy for young writers to get stuck in their teens and early twenties. They're at school or college or university, or are embarking upon their first jobs. They may not have the time or discipline to do much writing. But despite all that--because many young writers do and can overcome those pesky interruptions to the craft--there's one problem above all those: access. Many young writers aren't member of writing groups or literature development programmes. Many of them haven't heard of NAWE's Young Writers Hub or the Enabling Fund. Many of them don't know where to begin to look.

There are projects reaching out to those young writers in many of the regions here in the UK. And that is absolutely what needs to be done. But unfortunately, many writers (including many of my contemporaries), discover these opportunities all too late. Raising the age limit to 30 would, I think, prevent writers getting dropped from these programmes, or being excluded from these opportunities, just as they begin to hit their stride.

I have a 25-year old writer friend who is too old for the writing group she was a part of last year. She's now somewhat in limbo, because there aren't many opportunities left for her until she becomes more established. She's no longer the cool, trendy young thing organisations want to work with. She's just another emerging writer in a sea of others and yet, she's only just begun her journey.

So I think: give us time to find the opportunities. Give us time to write material to submit to your competition. Give us a helping hand, because we're the ones who will be shaping the literature sector in the future, and we're the ones who will have to lead the generation who comes after us.

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