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What Has Writing Taught Me?

My first children's novel, EREN - a dark middle grade story about a boy who meets a monster who eats stories - is being read by editors in the UK and the US right now, submitted by my agent.

My second children's book, which is about two boys who mess with dreams and old gods, is now, officially, finished. Well, the first draft is.

Two books. I'm proud of that. It's taken a few years. I must have learned something, right?

Well, yes. Except that I haven't written two books. I've written five and two-halves, over more than ten years. These last two are just the only ones good enough to make it.

There was the first book I ever wrote - which has since been destroyed, save one copy - which suffered so many problems I'm amazed the agents I sent it to even replied. But they did. And you know what? They said nice things. Encouraging, helpful things. I guess I was a pretty cute 13 year old wannabe.

There were a couple more after that - one that I think does have promise, and one that I think will probably never come to much. I submitted both of those to agents, too. I was an optimistic child, if nothing else.

The two halves are more interesting. One failed. One is just on ice, but with many plans for the future.

My point? That no writer just writes a book and stops. Practice makes ... well, not perfect. But better. Yes. Practice makes better.

What else? First drafts are exactly that. Those naive, if incredibly cute, first attempts to find people in the industry who liked my stuff were just premature. Books need work, and a hell of a lot of editing.

I've also learned about professionalism and encouragement. Great Zeus, publishing is a fantastic industry. Creative, inspiring, and filled with people who care so, so much about what they do. That encouraging letter to my 13 year old self really did keep me on the path to where I am now. I still have it, too. Maybe one day I'll meet the agent who wrote it. She's still around.

The time I've been writing - over a decade, which sounds a lot more grown up - has taught me something, too. Publishing changes, but good stories don't. Neither do kids. Not really. Kindles? E-books? Self publishing? New Adult? What does all that really mean to the readers? At the end of the day - and I know some will disagree - I rather imagine it doesn't mean a lot to the kids out there who just want to open a book, jump in, and dream. Don't spend time fretting about changes and the impact it might have on your career before you actually have readers. And don't try to write for what you think the market will be, if that's the only reason you're doing it. Believe in your books, writer! You have to be the first one who does. God knows no one else will, to begin with.

So, what else have two (or five and two-half) books taught me? That 'said' really is the best dialogue tag in roughly 98% of cases. That adverbs can be used well, but lots of people still hate on them. That 50,000, or 40,000, or 30,000 words sounds like such an easy thing to do, right up until you find yourself in the early hours of a Sunday morning cursing the world and yourself.

That community matters more than probably anything else when you're an aspiring writer.

That people care about you doing well, and want to help you get there.

That writing isn't an easy life, but for some, it's the only life there is.

Am I sounding trite? Well, how about this, then: I've learned about agency contracts and publishing agreements, royalty cheques and advance payments. I know what the AAR is and how to query in two different countries. I can use the world 'slushpile' without batting an eyelid and can format a ms., correct margins and font size and spacing and all, like it's no one's business. Synopsis? Easy. Name five top editors and agents they've done business with in the last year? Piece of cake. I joined the SCBWI, too. I made a blog, and my Twitter account.

My point? I've worked at things beyond the writing itself. It's that professionalism thing again. Writing is my passion. Of course it is. But if I want people to pay me for it, I recognise the need to play by at least some of the rules.

And lastly - what has writing taught me?

That I really don't know very much. I have so much more to learn. From other writers, from my frankly astounding agent and her colleagues, from editors, from strangers, from family and friends, from books, and from readers. It's a learning curve, isn't it? Getting better and smarter and more savvy. But hey - know what? I wouldn't give it up. Not for a second. Not for anything.

Onward, comrades.

Simon P Clark

Simon grew up in the UK before moving to rural Japan to teach English for three years after graduating. From there he moved to New Jersey, USA, where he works as a writer. His first children's book, EREN, is represented by Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency.

If you found this article useful, you may want to take a look at:

Getting plugged into the writing community

What to do after you've finished your book

What to do after the first draft's done

Editing, Editing, Editing

Query letters - what, why, how?

Acting like a pro