Since becoming a children's writer, I've been asked lots of times if I have any tips for children, as well as adults, on how to write, and what my writing process is like. To answer those questions and hopefully help out a few budding authors, both young and old, I've composed the following list of helpful tips. Happy reading!
If you are a child, keep writing, reading, listening and imagining. These are all of the tools you will need to be a great writer! Make up your own stories. Illustrate them. Work with a friend. Make a book together. Create crazy characters and write stories about them. Enter writing contests for children. Write. Be a kid. And read. Read, read, read. It's a great way to get ideas and learn how other authors put together a story.
If you are an adult, consider joining your local chapter of the Society for Children's Writer's and Illustrators (SCBWI). They are a great source of support, critique groups, information and conferences that will help any writer hone his or her craft. Read. Read everything that interests you, and few things that don't. I like to read fiction, nonfiction, magazines, journals, blogs, testimonials by other authors, everything. I try to keep a good balance of books, both kidlit and adult lit. Ideas, turns of phrase, ways to deal with segwaying from one scene to the next, they come from lots of different sources. Listen. Listen to kids talking, how they deal with issues. School visits for me are a great way to keep up with how kids today think, act, talk, and perceive. Write. Write everyday if you can. Set up a pattern of writing for yourself. Ideas flow better if the muses are contacted on a daily basis. They don't like being neglected.
To hone your skill, create a critique group, research various conferences through the SCBWI website, your local SCBWI, as well as online courses - The Institute of Children's Literature, courses at community colleges, or even an MFA program, such as the one offered by the Vermont University MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and many others
This can vary from author to author, but most of us go through about five stages: moment of inspiration, plotting the storyline, writing the rough draft, revisions, and finishing.
The moment of inspiration is usually the shortest for me. It oftens comes when I am out running. Although I've had people hand me ideas that are really cool and lead to a superb idea for a book. But generally, this takes very little time and is not always something I can control. It's like I tap into what's going on in the big world and out pops an idea.
Plotting the storyline basically means I outline my story. Think of building a house. The first thing that goes up is the frame, for a book, it's the storyline. Depending on how long the story is, this can take twenty minutes - picture books - to a week - a novel. The storyline is basically a very rough sketch of how the story itself should develop. It's a gameplan. And it changes a lot as I work on the book, especially for a novel. I will go back about once a week to revise the storyline after I've written a chunk of the book itself. Characters change. New events I hadn't originally planned on sometimes happen, making changes to the latter part of the story necessary. It's a very dynamic process that is constantly changing and being revised as I write.
Writing the rough draft can take anywhere from an hour - picture book - to a few months - novel. This basically means putting up the walls and roof around the frame of my house. I write out my story. But it's only a rough draft.
Revisions are where the real work begins, and they usually take the longest. I spend up to two years on a book revising it, regardless of length. A story needs time to develop. I often walk away for a while, letting it sit, before I come back to revise and improve. It's during this stage that I begin to play with my characters and what they are doing. I really get to know them and can improve on what they say, how they act, what they do. They start to play too. Sometimes, a character will just walk into a scene I am writing. I let them stay, usually, to see what they will do and if they are pointing me in a new direction with the story. If they have a good idea, that usually changes the story and creates more revisions. But again, it's a pretty dynamic process that keeps me writing and rewriting and improving. At this stage, words begin to really shine. The story becomes tighter with better direction. Characters become real people to me.
Finishing the story is the trickiest part. Knowing when to stop isn't always clear. It's perhaps why the great English writer, Oscar Wilde, quipped that no book is ever finished, it is simply abandoned. I didn't really understand what he meant until I wrote a novel. My characters came to life for me. I enjoyed helping them, watching them, and sometimes joining in on their play. When I write, I don't usually see my computer screen, but the scene I've created for my characters. So, for me, they never really stop existing, which makes it hard to know when I am done. Being done is more a feeling than it is finishing a certain number of pages or even writing "The End." When I begin to change a story for the sake of changing - not making it any better - I know it's time to walk away from my computer!
I think this varies from author to author, but for me, it comes from all over. Sometimes, it's an idea that pops into my head. Sometimes, it's an idea that someone gives me. Other times, it's something I experience, an emotion I want to write about, or something my kids have done. As a mom, I have a constant laboratory and novel input right in my home. School visits are another. Kids never cease to show me a new way to see the world.
When I am done with a story, I have a big bowl of ice cream. I LOVE ICE CREAM. I sit back and let myself enjoy the fact that I've finished a project. I go do something fun. And then, I get out my box of ideas - which is a folder on my computer - and dive into the next story!