*I once briefly tutored a thirteen year-old in creative writing. This is what I learned.

1. Learning how to finish a draft is an important skill in itself.

1.2 This skill mostly involves finding and developing a story by “writing out” of the first scenes or impressions you have of your narrative.

1.2.1 This takes a lot of deliberate, vigorously logical thinking. Many people do not know this is what it takes, that the writer has to put aside time and effort for simply thinking things through; they think a story should flow “naturally” from their pen and there should be little or no difficulty involved in thinking out a story from the initial metaphors and impressions to its end. In fact, there is nothing “natural” about the process of finishing a novel. Starting a novel, yes. Finishing one, no. Many inexperienced writers abandon their work at this point.

1.2.2 It helps, also at this point, to have been widely and deeply read, to give you ideas as to the possibility of where you might take your narrative. Formal study in literature or writing workshops will help you here, but only up to a point. What matters more fundamentally is that you’ve seen and consciously thought about how other writers have solved certain problems, how they peg certain “destinations” to orient their energies and write towards; otherwise, a solution may go as far as to introduce itself but you wouldn’t be able to recognize it.

2. A lot of young writers don’t know how to finish a story.

2.1 It may be a matter of skill or a matter of disposition; there may be a biological inability for young writers to have a sense of narration across time, but it’s most likely some combination of all these things.

2.1.1 Younger people tend to have a different conception of time. This may be a clue to the biopsychological reason as to why there are child prodigy mathematicians and musicians but no child prodigy novelists. You may have to have lived a certain stretch of time in order to have a tactile sense of its richness and be able to mine its narrative potential.

2.2 If you’re a young writer, try to write poetry first, or epiphany-based short fiction that does not require too much thinking out about time and narration. Otherwise, wait until you’re older. (If you’re one of the exceptional young writers who can think across time, congratulations. Write away. If you’re not, it’s no big deal. Wait it out a bit more. Live more life and read more books.)

2.2.1 This is not to say long fiction is intellectually superior to poetry (it’s the opposite if anything). It’s just that young people (even children) seem to be able to come up with metaphors and extend them over the essentially “timeless” space of a poem, but not over the “timeful” space of a novel. Metaphor informs the fiction writer in terms of the theme of her narration, but it cannot replace the role of time in narration. Time needs time.

I was once in Cambodia on a business trip.

I had never been to Cambodia before. I had lived in Bangkok for two years as a kid, and we were coming in from Singapore on that trip; Singapore seemed like the future, Bangkok the present, and Phnom Penh the past. The city, unlike its actual past, seemed quiet and peaceful.

I wanted to loosen my tie but I didn’t. Out of respect for my job, but out of respect for Cambodia as well.

It was daytime, and there were young people here and there playing soccer in plazas or alleys, the way soccer is played easily and everywhere around the world. Our van made its way through the winding streets. I watched the world outside.

It began to rain. The way it rains in the tropics, sheets of it, whitening the sky with water. But the young people playing soccer barely seemed to notice it. They continued to play.

I asked the Korean diplomat who was with me, “Shouldn’t they get out of the rain?”

He looked out of my side of the window and remarked, “They’ll just play through it. The sun will come out in a couple of minutes and they’ll be dried out in no time. They’re like that here.”

He was right. The rain abruptly ceased, the sun came out, and the young people continued to play through it all.

And that’s when I realized, Cambodia was going to be alright. Cambodia was fine.