Older, creative? It’s time to begin.

1 May 2022
By Sylvia Dow Playwright

Sylvia’s play Threads, a play about women, work and knitting, was presented by Stellar Quines.

I’m an older artist. Let me embroider that a little. I’m an older writer, a playwright. A bit more, maybe? I’m an older professional playwright who started late, a baker’s dozen years ago, when I reached 70 years of age. I’m going to ponder a little here on what that has meant to my life and the nature and pleasure of writing in general.  

After a long and busy life in the arts, I had not set out to have a new career, was just looking for something interesting, something which had to do with my life’s passion, theatre. Something just for me. I spotted a Masters degree course in playwriting and dramaturgy at Glasgow University, was accepted and signed on. With some trepidation I may say. But apart from a daunting introduction, being the only member of our class with zero tattoos or piercings, and certainly the only one without a previous full degree, I enjoyed everything about it, the academic work, and my young clever, and talented classmates, from a’ the airts and still my friends. And, biggest surprise of all, the satisfaction I found in writing plays. The two playwriting tutors that year, both theatre professionals, were supportive and encouraging, and one commissioned my first play for her company. That was how it began. To my delight and astonishment, and to the not quite disguised dismay of my long retired husband who had dreams of a quiet future uninterrupted by writer’s angst and other crises. Writing for theatre is not simply the writing bit, at home with your laptop, it’s the preparing for performance bit, it’s the working with actors and director bit, it’s the collaboration with other artists bit.  

It’s the being not always at home bit. 

But he was philosophical, and a bit proud I think. I hope so.  

Once I started writing it very quickly became important to my life. A vital part, you could say. I found I had stories to tell and wanted to tell them in interesting ways.  

Starting late in life meant that there was always learning to be done in this new world I’d found myself in, and a feeling that I was playing catch-up constantly. But that’s also a joy. And it does give one an excuse to see as much theatre as possible. Scotland is fortunate in its playwrights. We have so many really good writers and there’s so much opportunity for an older catch-up playwright to learn.  

I would encourage anyone to write. If I had not ever had a play on in a theatre, having found writing, or it having found me, I would be doing it anyway. Storytelling is ingrained in all us humans,  and writing is a form of telling stories which demands very little in the way of equipment or space. A computer is lovely to write with, that cut’n’paste ability as you shuffle your words around and the neat formatting, but all you really need is something to write on and with. A chair to sit in if possible. And a story of course. The story is everything. I’ve heard people say ‘ I don’t have an idea in my head’ or ‘I have no imagination’ but these are fallacies. Everyone has both of these and more, all you have to do, and I don’t deny first steps can be bumpy, is to unearth them. Writing is all about unearthing, about expressing, and communicating, even if only to oneself. It frees one’s mind and imaginings because there is no censor. You can write whatever floats your boat, and sail it to wherever you want.  

Reader, you could start now. At first you may be tentative, but, especially if you are older, you have a whole life’s experience to inform and inspire you. Start now. You won’t regret it. I never have. Paper and pen at the ready? Time to begin.