A few days ago Corey wrote about an exercise she was asked to do at the 2009 Rutgers conference. The panel leader asked the attendees to write their names and what age they felt inside. The point was that whatever age you feel inside should be the age you write for. It's cute and a little clever and maybe even somewhat useful, but I think mostly it's nonsense.
As writers, we traffic in the truth and this exercise strikes me as being largely untruthful.
Because the truth is, none of us feel the same age inside all the time. Or even most of the time. In two weeks, when I get together with some of my college buddies, I will feel (and probably behave) like a twenty-one year old, complete with lewd remarks I'd never make in the presence of my wife and more adult beverage consumption than I'll engage in the rest of the year.
Yesterday, when I tried to run three miles and gave up because my legs got sore around the 1.5 mile mark, I felt more like a forty-five-year old.
When I got on a bike last week for the first time since probably middle school I felt a lot like I felt when I was first learning to ride--nervous, cautious, embarrassed, and awkward. (And my butt hurt as if it had the padding of a person much younger as well)
When I learned my mom got cancer and then when she had open heart surgery I wrestled with the fears of a six-year-old.
On snow days I feel eleven.
And when I walk into a high school gym, memories of my own basketball playing days wash over me and I feel, if only for a fleeting moment, like I am seventeen again.
I think the better advice is this: for whatever age you are writing, you ought to be able to take yourself back in time and remember what it was like to be six, or eleven, or seventeen, or forty-five. And if you need to play a certain song, or recall a certain memory, or visit a certain place in order to do that, then go right ahead. It shouldn't be too hard. In fact, it's probably the most natural thing in the world.