“As creatives, we’re always evolving, and we’re going to learn from every story we write.”
— Samantha M. Clark
Samantha M Clark is the award-winning author of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST and ARROW (both published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster) and AMERICAN HORSE TALES: HOLLYWOOD (Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House), as well as the GEMSTONE DRAGONS chapter book series, coming from Bloomsbury on Aug. 2, 2022. She lives with her husband and two funny dogs in Austin, Texas, where she helps other writers as the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Sign up for news and giveaways at www.SamanthaMClark.com. Follow her on Twitter @samclarkwrites, Instagram @samanthamclarkbooks, Facebook at SamanthaMClarkAuthor, and Pinterest at SamClarkWrites.
On Saturday, March 5th, Samantha M. Clark is teaching a class for the WLT called “Your Words, Your Voice: How Language Builds Character and Story to Breathe Life into Your Book.” In this class you’ll learn to explore voice, how voice impacts your story, and how to harness your own voice as an author.
Here’s some advice Samantha had to give to fellow writers:
Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?
Samantha M. Clark: Telling stories has been my dream since I was a kid. I didn’t much care how I told them, whether in novels, plays or films, I just wanted to tell them. As I grew up, I got shuffled into the more “practical” writing career of journalism and editing, but while I loved my time working in newspapers and magazines, I really wanted to write fiction. I worked on fiction in my spare time, getting up at 4 am to get writing time in before my day job, whatever I had to do. It took a long time – and many screenplays and novels – before I signed with my agent and sold my first book, but it was worth it.
I write in a lot of different categories and really enjoy the diversity. I’m primarily published in children’s books, with three middle-grade novels out (THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST and ARROW from Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, and AMERICAN HORSE TALES: HOLLYWOOD from Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House) and a chapter book series, GEMSTONE DRAGONS, for ages 7 and older launching from Bloomsbury on June 7. But I’ve also got a short story for adult readers in the super fun CASTLE OF HORROR FEMME FATALES ANTHOLOGY, which was published by Castle Bridge Media last year, and I’ve written three young adult novels, which I’ll get around to revising for submission one of these days. I’ve also been dabbling in picture books, which I find much harder than novels but also a lot of fun.
Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?
SC: There are so many challenges, and I’m constantly learning and evolving my process, both in my craft and business, to try to make things better. For the business side, I try to stay organized and try different tools to keep myself on track. After I became a published author, there were a lot more demands on my time, like marketing, teaching and school visits, and it can be a lot to juggle. I’m currently using an app called TickTick to help me keep a handle on everything I have to do and when, so that when I’m writing, I can fully focus on that.
For the craft side, I try to keep the stories I’m working on in my head even when I’m not at my computer. I think about the characters while I’m cooking, walking our dogs, washing dishes, etc. I also try to write every day, even if it’s just for five minutes. This helps me get back into my story quicker when I sit down to write. Sometimes writer’s block still strikes, but I always think about what Robert McKee says about writer’s block in his brilliant book STORY. He says when a writer hits writer’s block, it’s usually because they haven’t done enough research. I don’t know that this is always true – especially now with the stresses of life in general, it can be hard to write – but this is true for me most of the time. So when I’m having difficulty getting into a story, I do research, for the character, the world, the voice, whatever, and it nearly always sparks something that gets my pen working again.
Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?
SC: Ha! I laugh because I don’t know that anyone can truly say they know what they’re doing forever more in their writing. As creatives, we’re always evolving, and we’re going to learn from every story we write. That said, there have been times when I’ve thought “This is it!” about a particular story point – and it usually lasts for a chapter or two before there’s another plot point of character problem that I’m trying to figure out. For ARROW, for example, I wrote the first half of the book seven times before I figured out how to tell the story. There were times that I thought I’d have to abandon the idea altogether, but I did more research and it sparked new ideas and directions that make the story even better.
I’ve now written 15 novels and short stories, including my unpublished ones, and there are things I’ve learned that make the process faster. I can more usually see directions that won’t work more quickly, for example, but writing any story is a journey of discovery, and that journey is different for every project.
Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?
SC: There are two: The first one is to read. It surprises me how many people say they want to write a novel but don’t read them, or want to write a picture book but don’t read them. Reading is one of the best ways to learn, because our subconscious is soaking in the flow of the story, the authors’ word choices, the way characters are revealed, and the more we read, the easier it is to understand these concepts for our own work. I always recommend writers read in the category they’re writing, but also read in other categories too, as well as read diversely when it comes to authors and cultures. Just like painters will be influenced by the work of others, so are we with writing.
The second piece of advice is: Don’t judge your draft by a published book. Before I signed with my agent, I often felt as though my writing would never be as good as the books I had borrowed from my library or bought from a bookstore. But after I sold my first book, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, and I was working with my editor to get it ready for publication, I saw how extensive the revision process is, and it made me feel better about my earlier drafts.
To sell a book, or sign with an agent, our work needs to be as professional as possible, but I know now that it takes a LOT of work to get it there. So when I’m early in the process of a new story, I try not to get discouraged when I read a brilliant work that’s already published. I tell myself that I’m just at the beginning of this book’s journey, then I roll up my sleeves, and get to work.
Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?
SC: For my “Your Words, Your Voice” class, the biggest thing I hope is for attendees to leave feeling less anxious about “voice.” It’s such a hard thing to pin down, and I remember being so frustrated when agents and editors said they were looking for “a fresh voice” and would “know it when they saw it.” What is that? How do I write that? How can I do that? Ultimately, voice comes from the writer, so I hope that, through my class, writers will be better able to understand voice and how to hone their own, so they’re not as frustrated about the process and can enjoy writing their stories.
Click here to learn more about Samantha M. Clark’s upcoming class.