I have been talking with hundreds of children about my latest book, The Little Stowaway, visiting schools big and small. I’m told by my publisher that not many authors like the publicity side of the business of writing a book. That they would rather be writing another book than promoting and marketing the one just published. But I love it. I love connecting to the readers and encouraging writers, young and old to be better writers.
Anyway, back to the school visits. When I ask the children to raise their hands if they want to be a writer, a sea of small fingers punch the air above their heads. I ask them what they think the secret of writing a good story is, again a sea of hands. Some said, ‘a good imagination,’ ‘a big vocabulary’, ‘someone to help them with the spelling’, ‘a sharp pencil’, I actually really liked that one, but no, that’s not the answer I’m looking for.
From my experience, the BIG SECRET is to write something every day. It doesn’t matter how or what it is, a journal, a short story, a paragraph, fifty words… Just as long as you do something every day. I have the feeling that’s not what they wanted to hear.
When I ask for questions from the audience about being a writer, a sweet faced, small boy in the front row threw his hand into the air, ‘Miss, how long did it take you to write this book?’
‘Three years from the concept to the publication,’ I reply. ‘A good picture book is not written overnight. A children’s book is a refinement of an idea, which will only use a few potent words to tell the story. But usually an author starts off with a lot of words, then turns over every one before finding just the right ones.’
Author/illustrator Mem Fox said ‘Writing for children is like writing War and Peace, in haiku.’ And that’s my experience too.
A story about a little girl who goes on holiday with her family to the beach and brings home some shells is not a story. A book needs a beginning, middle, and a strong finish. Without a preachy moral at the end, because the end of a story is even harder than the start.
Please don’t be discouraged if you believe you have an amazing story to tell, but make sure you have a point of difference in it somewhere.
A children’s book may only look like a couple of hundred words but it’s how they are strung together that makes all the difference.