Freelance Blog + special

Does Age Matter?

I saw this question posted on Renegade Writer a long time ago, and I wanted to throw in my two cents. One of the great things about freelance writing is that there’s not necessarily the same sort of “dues paying” as in other professions. A young lawyer spends years studying, learning the ropes, and proving herself before she makes partner (if she’s lucky). Unless it’s a family business, a restaurant manager gradually moves his way up the food chain. A professor struggles through a PhD program, pays her dues, and, in many cases, waits for someone else to retire before earning tenure.
Theoretically young writer with good clips can do just as well as an older one. But do they?
Case in point: a little over a year ago I submitted an essay to a women’s magazine. The editor wrote back right away, saying “I love your take on dating, but do you mind my asking your age? Our target audience is women ages xx-xx.” Knowing I was on the younger end of the spectrum but that other women would relate to my story, I rounded up to my next birthday still a few months away (yes, a white lie, so sue me!). I never heard from her again, and a few months later I learned that the magazine had folded. Still, part of me always wondered if she found my perspective “too young and cute” for her v. important and mature readers. Or maybe she somehow found out that I had fibbed.
In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have given a number at all. Still, when you’re that age (and I’ll leave the number to your imagination), saying “this essay should speak for itself” is hard, especially if you’re trying to win an editorial’s approval. Of course, now that I have a website anyone can see my photos and guess (correctly) that I’m in my twenties. I choose to leave them up, because I think the photographer (my pal Rachel) did an excellent job of capturing my personality. Plus, as they say “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
I still sometimes feel that my relative youth can be a liability. I can’t write credible essays about getting married and having children (two favorite topics in women’s mags), because I don’t have those experiences yet. (When I was doing high school theatre I desperately wanted to fall in love so I could channel those feelings into my performance as the leading lady and make it more believable. Now I think I could have done without some of the offstage drama.)
Of course, it also means that I am qualified to write about the college-to-work transition, dating (do you think the IRS will let me write off those cocktails and bikini waxes as research materials?), and other mainstays of the twentysomething set. What do you think? Should writers deal strictly with words and dismiss age as a meaningless number?

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