Things I’ve Learned from Writing for Children #1

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With the pandemic raging I’ve been spending a lot more time at home. (For an introvert, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.) More time with my family. More time for writing. And more time for rummaging through old boxes that sit in the bottom of the closet. In looking through one of those boxes I found some of my first attempts at writing for children, stories written over twenty years ago.

You know how some people look at pictures of themselves from high school and remember “the good old days” while others look at their photos and cringe? The stories I found in that old box were cringeworthy. When I wrote those stories twenty-some years ago I thought they were pretty good. I was wrong.

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I quickly buried those stories deep in their box.

But I didn’t get rid of them.

I kept those stories. And I’ve been thinking about why I would choose to do so. I think the answer is best illustrated by a quick aside (please forgive the sappiness):

A little over twenty years ago (about the time I wrote the stories) my wife and I got engaged. At the time I thought I loved her as much as anyone could love another person.

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But when we celebrated our first anniversary, I looked back and realized that when we got engaged, I didn’t know what love was. Only after a year of marriage did I understand what love really meant.

A few years later I looked back and thought, “Now I know what love is. Back then I didn’t have a clue. Now I understand.”

And this has gone on and on. Every few years I think I finally understand what love is. I finally love my wife as much as she deserves to be loved.

The same experience has happened for me with writing (and with teaching, but that’s a whole other subject). When I first started writing it didn’t take long before I thought I had it figured out. And every few years I’ve compared the stories I’m currently writing with the stories I wrote a few years earlier and think, “Back then I didn’t have a clue. Now I know what good writing is. Now I understand.” This has gone on and on for over twenty years now.

It’s humbling to think this pattern is likely to continue. Every few years I’ll think I’ve finally arrived only to realize in retrospect I didn’t have a clue.

Which brings me to the first thing I’ve learned from writing for children:

                        Hard work leads to improvement.

I know it’s cliché, but it’s true. I’ve worked hard to become a better writer. I invest time every day in this craft: writing, revising, reading, critiquing… And I’ve seen improvement. It’s been hard work, but those stories from twenty years ago (and those from ten years ago, and five years ago…) offer proof that the time and effort I’ve put into writing has helped me improve. That’s part of why I’ve included in this blog my first published stories and poems and essays (no, you don’t get to read the really cringe-worthy stories from twenty years ago; those are too embarrassing). A part of me wants to revise all of them, to make them better. But a part of me likes them the way they are: They are proof of my improvement.

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No, I don’t have a book published (yet), and I haven’t made enough money to take everyone reading this out for coffee (maybe we could share a couple lattes…a few sips for each of us), but I’ve improved. The joy I get as a writer has grown. The joy others have received from reading my work has grown. And I hope that my joy and their joy and your joy will continue to grow.

In a few years I may look back on this post and cringe. I might wonder how I could ever think this was ever worth sharing with the world. Or, I might read this post and think, “Wow, I have really improved. Back then I didn’t have a clue. But now? Now, I understand.”

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