After 60+ books I’ve gathered a few tips on writing for children:
1) Always read the genre you are aiming at and immerse yourself in the relevant books.
I have written plays for teenagers and younger children, general story and picture books, plus joke, puzzle, activity and story books for TV tie-in characters such as Brum.
I used to think that my writing might be diluted by reading other writers. The opposite is true. I was able to pull their words and structures apart, agree (or disagree) with what I read, and get a sense of how each format worked. What I discovered somehow filtered into my own writing.
2) Grow up surrounded by books.
This riffs on my first point. Obviously you can’t go back in time and surround yourself with books but it helps if you have had a childhood love of reading. Fiction, non-fiction, who cares. Just getting words into you is a positive and life-affirming benefit.
3) Study the ways children (your readers) think and interact.
Watch, listen and learn. Resist the urge to step in – any interaction from you will affect the dynamic. Become aware of the rhythms and patterns that youngsters adopt. It will make your own writing sound more natural.
Children tend to say only what they need to say. They often repeat phrases and rework their sentences as they speak – so go with their flow. It’ll make you a better writer.
4) Love your work.
There is no point writing something and getting all worked up about it before the ink is dry. I tend to write my stories in big chunks then go back and edit. This approach works, but only if I know the plot and the characters well enough. If I am too uncertain then it shows in my writing. Better to write a chapter and edit afterwards than write a paragraph and edit that.
Rash editing can simply be masking your lack of preparation or understanding of the story or characters. If you believe your work is rubbish it will be. So pull out what works. Look for the strengths. Print it off, go for a walk, come back and read it at arm’s length. If you think it is going nowhere then stop…and start writing something else.
5) Buy a load of sticky notes.
When I have a story idea I draw the main story arc. It gets me to explore actions and characters and motivations without too much fussing over the plot. I can see the way – or the roadblocks -ahead.
I concentrate on ACTIONS. If characters are not doing something then they should not be in your story. Stories are about DOING. Sticky notes can be easily rearranged, drawn over, replaced, etc. They are brilliant. You can do the same using virtual notes on your computer desktop or tablet screen. Trust me, it works.
6) Don’t give up.
Life for a writer is tough. For every rejection send your stuff out to three, no, ten more publishers. Who knows why someone gets lucky and is published? It could be that they have written the best kids’ book EVER. Maybe they simply approached the agent/publisher at the right time.
The key is to build relationships. Get known as a hardworking, imaginative writer and your reputation will help you get more work.
When you get rejections – and you will – channel your writing energy into new projects.
7) Be nice to everyone.
A) It’s a nice thing to do
B) Publishers and Editors and Agents move about, get promoted, lunch together, etc. Some may even talk about you. You want that to be in a good way.
8) Write as much as you can.
You don’t have show it to anyone – just write and see what happens.
When you write, magic happens. Doors open. People smile and the world is a better place.
You can quote me on that.
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