Recently I met a fourteen-year-old screenwriter and director. He was eight when he realized he wanted to make movies, and since then he’s read everything he can get his hands on that has to do with screenplays.
He’s taken workshops, he’s studied movies in his genre of choice — horror and suspense — and he’s practiced his craft. Most of what he’s produced have been five-minute movies he and some friends made in his garage or elsewhere around our community— until recently, when he made the leap to more ambitious scripts, like the thirty-minute movie he filmed last summer in preparation for this summer’s sixty-minute feat.
As a writer, I applaud him. Right before I apply his experience to my own.
We never should measure our own worth by the success of others, I recently read by coincidence.
But how can we not? At fourteen, this Stephen Spielberg or Peter Jackson in the making has been at it for nearly six years. I’ve been writing novels for five, and before that, I was doing nothing. And I’m thirty-three.
Of course there are extremes at both ends, like people who don’t start writing until retirement. Most novelists don’t begin their writing careers until adulthood — but then there’s always that fourteen-year-old out there who writes Eragon and makes us all feel like slouches because instead of spending our summer vacations writing novels and studying up on every book on writing we could find, we were watching cartoons and making Suncatchers window art. We were the ones working meaningless summer jobs instead of pursuing internships, or studying for career paths we would choose not to pursue in adulthood. We worked in coffee shops or grocery stores or at pools, coming home at night to fall onto a couch and wither away in front of the TV — for years.
What drives children at eight or ten or twelve or fourteen to a dedication so great it makes them think and act like adults before their time? To abandon the games of their youth and the habits of all their friends and close themselves in their rooms and rattle off ten or fifteen pages of a screenplay each day after school instead of play some game online or shoot hoops down the street?
When I was all those ages I wasn’t writing, but I was pursuing other hobbies — I was learning to play the clarinet; I was joining the chorus at school and drawing for hours at a time and spending weekends alone in the woods behind my house raking out paths for a world only I would enjoy. And children who choose baseball or dancing or art over their friends’ activities oftentimes choose to follow those passions into adulthood as eagerly and with as much training, experience, and maturity as those writing screenplays or novels do.
I did — eventually — start writing, and I kept at it, and still keep at it, long after others would have quit.
I guess I won’t know why I never felt the need to pursue a career path before I could spell the word “career,” but I’m not sure it matters at this point. When he’s thirty-three, shooting his own equivalent of Jaws, maybe Peter Spielberg will look back on the movie he’s working on now and think it’s all too telling of the work of a fourteen-year-old.
Or maybe he won’t. Maybe it will be exactly how he hopes it will be. Maybe he’s on a faster track than the rest of us are because he has more to accomplish in his life. Maybe the rest of us took longer to come around to our purpose or we needed to live more so we would have more to write about when we did finally sit down to our writing desks.
When I was fourteen, I didn’t have any ideas yet. So that’s why I didn’t write anything then. The ideas came later, built upon a foundation of imagination facilitated through artistic expression and time spent with loved ones. Only now would I be foolish enough to ignore the ideas I have to the promotion of meaningless pursuits.