Three years ago, I decided I was going to try to write books for children. After all, I was a Specialized Reading Teacher for 22 years, I read to my children until they kicked me out of their rooms, and I read to my students from the huge collection of books I had in the classroom. Writing children’s books seemed like the perfect “second career” for me.
Of course, I knew nothing about how to go about this new endeavor, so I started by researching the Internet, looking for “how to” books. I was amazed and quickly overwhelmed with the amount of information available. I ordered several books, which I read cover-to-cover, and followed every suggestion, starting with joining SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators).
When I received the SCBWI information packet and their latest bulletin, I read, re-read, and highlighted, barely stopping long enough to feed my exhausted, hard working (did I mention ignored?) husband and have a glass of wine. Thank heavens for wine; it helped bring me out of my self-induced fugue state.
I also joined NE-SCBWI (the New England regional group), and found out about their 1-day Encore Presentation in October 2007 of three of the most popular workshops from their May 2007 conference. With great trepidation, I signed up and drove up to Nashua NH alone.
There I met 20-25 other writers, many of them well on their way with manuscripts. Everyone was friendly, and I came home excited about what I learned from the speakers:
• John L Bell, freelance editor, author, historian, Assistant Regional Advisor of NE-SCBWI, and blogger ozandends.blogspot.com, spoke about Dialogue and Character.
• Mark Peter Hughes, author of Lemonade Mouth and I am the Wallpaper spoke about Plotting.
• Sue Burgess, a children’s literature professor for 20 years at Framingham State College and coordinator of the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grants spoke about “Voice.”
As the three speakers referenced many excellent examples from children’s literature, I became painfully aware of how much I had to learn. I was unfamiliar with almost every book they mentioned, other than Charlotte’s Web!
I decided that from then on, I would read at least ten picture books each week, and go to a bookstore or library monthly to see what’s new and on display. I used the list of books recommended by John, Mark and Sue as a place to start, and ordered up ten books from my library on their website.
I read, and sometimes bought, my own copies of books referred to for their excellence in the “How to” books I studied.
Now, before attending any conference, I read the books written by the Keynote speakers and the authors presenting the workshops I selected. After the conference, I have new lists of books to read through. You can’t imagine how excited I am when I can check off titles I’ve already read, or the joy I feel when the speaker refers to a book I’m familiar with now. Yahoo!
So, armed with some knowledge and a naughty French bulldog, I started writing—some of the stinkiest stuff ever. Egad!
That’s when I joined Joan Walsh’s critique group. It takes me an hour each way to drive to Falmouth twice a month, but it’s worth it.
Joan is a wonderful group leader. She met with me alone several times to get me up to speed—teaching me active vs. passive verbs, show don’t tell, and to cut adverbs and adjectives to leave room for the illustrator. We talked about first person vs. third, and present tense vs. past.
In the meantime, I kept studying, attending conferences, and joined the Cape Cod Writers’ Center (CCWC), and Children’s Book Insider. CBI is an online site by Jon Bard and Laura Backes that is overflowing with information, and their monthly newsletters are great—I highly recommend you join. (a few of my previous blogs were about a Laura Backes Bootcamp I attended in May, 2010 in Charlotte, NC—check them out).
If you’re going to try your hand at writing, be prepared to put in lots of time learning how. Am I published yet? No. Have I learned a lot? Yes. Do I still have more to learn? Yes. Is my life richer and fuller than before? Absolutely!