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Getting started as a children’s writer

June 29, 2010

I loved reading as a kid, and, before I could read, being read to. My mom likes to tell the story about my grandmother visiting us when I was in the neighborhood of 4 years old. I wanted Mom to read me a book, and, though she read to me often, she was busy at the moment. My grandma would have none of that, and informed my mom that if I wanted to be read to, I was going to be read to. Then Grandma looked down and told me to go get as many books as I wanted and she would read them to me. My face lit up and I skittered off to my room. My mom warned Grandma that she had no idea what she was in for! Mom says the pile of books I deposited at Gran’s feet was nearly as tall as I was. I’m sure Grandma was more careful with her words on the next visit 😉 And on those nights when Mom was exhausted and wanted to get through a book quickly, I had no mercy. There was no paragraph-skipping allowed. I couldn’t read yet, but I knew my books, word for word, and quickly brought it to my mom’s attention when she accidentally missed some of them.

Then, in junior high, I discovered I loved to write. I worked on the school yearbook and wrote poetry and stories about unicorns when I was supposed to be learning algebraic equations. When I started college, I put my writing aside. I graduated, took on a full time, grown-up job, got married, bought a house….and then became a mom. I missed writing, and my children were a constant source of inspiration, so I picked up a pen and notebook again. Eventually, I sold poems and stories to several magazines. Still waiting on, and working toward, my first book sale. I’m excited about a novel I recently finished, and soon I’ll embark on a search for an agent who loves it as much as I do.

I won’t bore you with any more details of my personal journey, but I do want to leave you with a short list of some very helpful things, for those of you just starting your journey as a children’s writer, whether you want to try your hand at magazine pieces, picture books, mid-grade, or young adult novels.

These are in random order, off the top of my head…

1. Always carry a small notepad with you, in your purse, car, wherever. Even on your night stand. Story ideas can and will hit you at any time, and there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to recall that incredible spark of genius that woke you up at 2 a.m. (Trust me, you think you’ll remember it in the morning, but don’t take the chance.)

2. Visit Verla Kay’s website, specifically, the message board (see Links in the sidebar). It is a treasure trove of information, and it’s where all the cool kid (writers) hang out! Check out the other sites I have linked as well…they are all well worth a visit (or two, or ten). But you will probably spend the bulk of your “research” time at Verla’s. I do!

3. Invest in a current copy of the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. There is a new edition each year, and it’s chock-full of great interviews and submission information for magazine and book publishers, as well as agents.

4. Read, read, read. Seek out (current) books similar to what you hope to write. And read them. Lots of them!

5. Schedule writing time for yourself. It’s easy to spend hours on the Net, researching and divining inspiration–and this is all well and good, as long as you leave ample time for yourself to apply what you’re learning. Twenty minutes, an hour, three hours; whatever you can fit into your schedule on a regular basis.

6. When you feel ready, consider joining a critique group. (You can find openings or others looking to pair up on Verla’s message board). You absolutely need to do this. Do NOT rely on your spouse or children or mother or friends to read your work and give you valuable feedback. Unless they are writers. Children’s writers. And even then, think about it…they love you, they are not going to want to pick your manuscript apart. Either that, or it could go the other way, if they do not love (and read a lot of) children’s books. They could be, let’s just say, less than enthusiastic, about the story you have just poured your heart and soul into.  So reach out to others who share your passion, are serious about pursuing it, and can give you objective input.

7. Will you be miserable if you give up writing? Will your life seem unfulfilled if you never again jot down more than a grocery list? Do you have other dreams, other hobbies, that could easily take the place of writing in your life? (Because honestly, it’s a tough road, and it’s not for everyone) If you answered YES, YES, NO, make up your mind right now that you won’t let rejection stop you. This business is full of rejection. Often years and years of rejection before breaking through. You’re only human, so it will get you down. Just don’t let it stop you. Go on with your life and whatever you do to pay your bills, but if you love to write, write!

That’s all for now…oh, but do take a quick detour to my Distractions page if you don’t have enough distractions of your own and would like to take a look at some of mine:)


From → On Writing

  1. I do/have done all of the above. Welcome to Blogland, Jessica.

    ~from your fellow Blueboarder, Ghost Girl!

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