by Nancy Markham Alberts
Your inner child cries out for a voice.You realize that writing for children and young adults is the perfect vehicle for letting out that voice. Getting paid for it is even better. What, then, are the best steps for success as you start your journey toward publication?
Get to know yourself
Writing is a solitary act. It’s just you and yourself, so you may as well get acquainted. Solo down time away from the computer—whether by way of long walks, long showers, or just staring into space gives you that opportunity. Remember how it felt to be excluded from parties or embarrassed by a teacher? Tap into your early memories often by nonstop free writing warm–ups. Start with I remember . . . and then let it rip, repeating the mantra when you get stuck.
Don’t let a shortage of paper or folders or ink cartridges interrupt your writing time as you run to the store. Keep well stocked with supplies. Make a calendar one of those supplies. Then mark down your times to write as well as goals and deadlines—in ink! Hang that calendar in your own private writing space. If you don’t have your own room, convert a closet into an office or create a work area with room dividers.
You’re in the word business, so you’ll be dividing your time between reading and writing. Don’t neglect either one. If you want to write for young people, you should practically live in the children’s room of your library or at least visit often to check out books—especially those in the genres that interest you most. Pay special attention to new acquisitions to see what’s currently being published. Read to learn style, structure, and tricks of the trade, and for pure pleasure. Read book reviews and children’s magazines and every how–to book you can get your hands on. Write regularly. Batting and fielding practice sharpen the skills of ballplayers. Frequent writing sessions have the same effect on writers. Similarly, just as too much time away from the batting cage can result in a batting slump, neglecting your writing may result in a creative funk.
Meet regularly with other writers, preferably those who also write for young people. The networking, critiquing, and support that come from writers groups are invaluable. If you can’t meet in person, connect via email or snail mail.
Get thick skin!
Accepting criticism about your work is never easy, but the sooner you become willing to change your precious words, the better. Revision is not only a necessary process; it’s what separates writers from published writers. Even when you hit publication pay dirt, you will be revising yet again as you work with an editor. You might as well face another fact—on the road to publication, you will get enough rejection slips to line every drawer and shelf in your home and then some.
Get out there
All writing and no life experience can result in dull manuscripts that lack the ring of truth, the spark of surprise, the touch of humor, or the depth of reality. Experience life in myriad ways, making sure young people play some role. If you don’t live with or work with children, find a volunteer situation that will enable you interact with today’s kids.
Breaking the publication barrier may be easier than you think if you try magazines first. Magazine publishers constantly need quality material to fill their issues, so opportunities abound to gain experience as well as publication credits. Nonfiction offers another viable option. Fiction submissions outnumber nonfiction around ten to one. Thus, you are ten times more likely to land a contract with nonfiction—in both magazines and books. Finally, publishers are looking for freshness, so be unique. Once you’ve learned the“rules” of writing for children, go ahead and break some. Then, dig deep, go over the edge, turn ideas on their heads. Tell your story as only you can. Your inner child will sing.