Want to write a children’s book? You’re reading the write right blog. Although technically the first version of write that I used was actually right for the context of this blog. The ability to write, to string words into compelling, coherent, sentences is one of the first lines of defense you will require as a writer. You will also need a great idea, plenty of paper and pen or a computer.
Don’t know what to write about? Stories are all around you. While it is important not to write real accounts of people’s lives unless you are memoir writing and you have their permission to do so, you can draw from your everyday life experiences. Do you remember what it was like to be a child? There’s a starting point for you. If you would rather write about the experiences of modern day childhood and draw from contemporary issues, observe the children you come across in your everyday relationships. The woman you see walking down the street whose child is tagging along at her heels, the child playing alone across the street, the kids playing in the parks, families taking walks together, put yourself in those kids shoes. How might they feel? What might they think? How do you think they see life through their eyes at their age? All you need is a starting point and you can go from there.
Some writers don’t like starting the day or a new piece of writing without a coffee (or something else to drink) and a sign on the door of the room they’re working in. It might have a message scribbled on it such as: genius at work or caution, writer at large, so their friends or family members know they are entering a magic realm where interrupting the writer is involved in a ‘do this/enter at your own risk’ type of thing. (Although sometimes it is completely fine to disturb the muse, like if someone’s burning dinner, interrupt the writer immediately. Some of the best writers I know and have heard of are the first to tell you that writing is a sacred, solitary event best served over (often) a hot coffee, computer and a space of your own.
You might think you have picked the easiest genre to tackle as a children’s writer. Quite the opposite is true. Writing for children is more difficult than genres such as copy writing or writing harlequins or even dramas. Children are some of a writer’s toughest critics because they will (most times) be honest with you in what they think about your story. Write a story that is compelling and that they can relate to. Sounds easy right? It can be. In retrospect, usually. It can take an army to slay the fictional literary dragon.
Write something that grabs their interest and is appropriate to the age range for which you are writing. Young readers’ are not likely to tell you what you want to hear about the book you slaved away at and instead will tell you where the flaws in your story might be the best way they know how and will be quick to put down the story if it doesn’t keep their interest. At this point, I want to acknowledge the billions of polite children who read books who might tell you in a more subtle manner that the story you wrote did not get their attention but nonetheless children are some of the most direct people I have ever encountered and they are often (though not always) right in their conclusions, no matter how blunt the manner in which they express it can be.
Now that I’ve told you the worst of it, the next thing I want you to prepare yourself for is that writing your first draft is not going to be roses. It will be gruelling and there will be moments you will want to rip up the pages and start over because you may not be happy with what you’ve written so far: don’t. Two things: keep writing and no looking back until the end of the first draft. That means if your protagonist is dangling from a cliff at page 22 and you can’t remember why you may peek at the last paragraph, okay page, to remember why, but don’t go back to page one and start rewriting. That is why some books take so long to get written, the author is constantly in rewrite mode.
The muse will not likely find you every day. To be successful you need to treat this like you would someone’s mother: with a lot of respect and a great deal of care. If you write something and put it out without getting it professionally edited or at least getting feedback on the manuscript before writing the second draft it may haunt you later.
When you finish the first draft put it away for a while Use this time to enjoy other aspects of your life you may have been neglecting while you wrote your book. Reward yourself for your hard work. Whether that means a night on the town or kicking back and watching a movie with loved ones to celebrate that you have completed your first draft you deserve to give yourself this recognition.
Has it been a few weeks? (Days don’t count.) Time to pull that manuscript out again and brush through it with a fine-tooth comb. Take out unnecessary words. Write in the present tense, it gives the reader the feeling of being a part of the experience. Prepare to cut and paste. You may find you have buried your lead in the body of the story.
Face the music: you may not like what you’ve written enough to ever let the first draft see the light of day again. Whatever you do, back-up and save your work. When you have finished the second draft send it to people you trust to give you an honest (not biased) opinion. If you can read your story to your children, nieces or nephews or you can ask your friends’ kids to give you some feedback. Don’t take it personally. You are NOT your work. This is a hard rule for writers to follow because so much of what a writer does comes from attaching their heart to their screen/paper.
When you have implemented whatever feedback you found helpful it is time to send your work to an editor. The editing process is necessary to weed out weak words, proofread, revise poor syntax, story structure issues and other writing hazards.
While you are waiting to receive your work back start researching publishers unless you plan to self-publish. Got that golden edited manuscript back? Congrats. You’ve finished writing a children’s book. Start sending it out to publishers. Happy querying!