Last Monday I started a new class about writing children’s books, “So You Want to Write a Children’s Book.” I teach two sessions–the first focuses on structuring stories and the second on viewing important elements of style.
Six stalwart children’s book fans met at my house and as per usual, they are a marvelous blend of backgrounds, opinions, and interests. All of them are enthusiastic. During our first meeting I misinformed them about how long I’d been teaching and shocked myself when I realized I’ve been teaching these classes for 5 years! All the more reason for celebrating with a series of blog posts that track our adventures and provide peeks at our conversations, insights and discoveries. I would love for children’s book writers to follow along and add their thoughts, so please comment!
I began our first class by granting permission to write, using the fabulous form I’ve taken from Ann Mazer and Ellen Potter’s Spilling Ink. Not only do I appreciate their playful style, I agree with these experienced authors about so many things. My only disagreement might be their subtitle; this book, though simple, fun and direct, is for writers of all ages, not just young writers.
For those of you who need permission to begin—thanks to Mesdames Mazer and Potter–you’ll find a link below for their “Writer’s Permission Form.” Print it out, get someone who will remind you of your newly bestowed power to sign it and put it in a place where you’ll remember that now, you have permission to write.
As so often happens, many of my students are new to writing children’s books and I begin with a first question: Does anyone think publishing a children’s book is easy? Happily, no one in 5 years has answered that question in the affirmative.
My focus is on improving writing, not on publishing. You can’t publish without excellent writing (unless you’re a celebrity) and concentrating primarily on publication is a huge mistake as I learned from personal experience. When I focused on pleasing the marketplace, my muse got angry and went away. At that point, I came up with a defining question that may be useful to you: if I could either publish, or write, which would I choose?
I have had students who enter classes with a manuscript, eager to know the steps and secrets for publication. I quickly disabuse them of the notion that it’s easy to publish a children’s book. In every case I’ve seen these writers transform as they immerse themselves in the joyous (though sometimes frustrating) journey of writing, nourishing themselves with the magical serendipities that occur along the way.
I am quick to quote the adage Malcolm Gladwell voices in Outliers: it takes 10,000 hours of work to master anything. Prima ballerinas may look glorious from the audience, but in truth they are awash in sweat and if you could see them shoeless, you’d discover many of them suffer with the gnarled feet that come from years of hard work.
For a children’s book writer, part of that 10,000 hours is reading the literature…the current literature! Throughout these posts I will suggesting books to read and by that I mean to do a close reading, or as I refer to it in my classes: “Reading Like a Writer.” Every week we examine these books and later, you can use the same path of evaluation to judge your own work.