Did you love to read as a child?

Watch out, that could be a hindrance! Beware of writing for the child you were - they may not exist any more. My initial draft is written for that dreamy introverted child I was, but I edit with the modern computer-literate kid in mind.


Can you write in a way which touches emotions?

As a child I played with log cabin blocks, while today's kids have electronic games. But  emotions have not changed. Children still experience loneliness, fear, shame, anger, jealousy, joy, just as I did (and do!). If you tap into that, your writing can reach the 21st Century child.


Can you tell an exciting story?

You may want to teach your reader something about life, but your story should have entertainment as its initial goal, or children won't be interested.


Can you learn to make your writing sparkle?

You will have one paragraph or one page at best, to grab the attention of that child who picks up your book and is trying to decide if it's worth reading. Join with other writers and learn your craft. (SCBWI is an excellent organization devoted to helping children's writers.)


Do you have vivid memories of a by-gone era?

If so, you might consider historical writing. Laura Ingalls Wilder based her 'Little House' series on her own childhood in the American Midwest.


Do you spend time with children?

This is essential if you are to relate to their world. I watch afternoon television once in a while, to see what they find interesting.


Are you willing to do market research?

One of the most common reasons for a publisher to reject a book is that the writer didn't bother to learn what that publisher wants. Trawl through websites. Spend time in the children's sections of large bookstores and take notes on any trends you spot. Read the current popular authors. (A tip: you can request books from the library to save money, but do your bookstore research first, as the most popular books will be the ones you never see in the library.) You won't want to copy what's out there, but you should be aware of it.


And finally: Read! Read! Read!



My greatest weakness is plotting, so the books that have helped me most are ones about screenwriting. Here's a shortlist of my favorites:


SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. I have a literal cat-saving moment in my latest story! I've found his 'beat sheet' very helpful in checking structure.


THE WRITER'S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler, based on the classic 'Hero's Journey' model by Joseph Campbell. The call to adventure, mentors, threshold guardians and many more elements of classic story are illuminated here.


WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL by Michael Hague. He does a great job at explaining the external and internal storyline. I used his chart to write my first novel.


I've read dozens of other excellent books on writing. Sometimes it's good to read and study these, and at other times it's best to put the experts aside and just write.  


LEARNING FROM OTHER AUTHORS (even those you don't like....)

I have learned a lot about writing from the late greats such as C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, Dickens, and many more. I've read pretty much everything they've written plus books about them, visited their homes or museums, soaked in the atmosphere of the places that inspired them. They have become my mentors.


My new favorite author is the late Eva Ibbotson, who creates achingly funny characters in stories with soul. I'm also a huge fan of Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of the magnificent COSMIC.


All of the greats have works that remain unpublished - or should have! Often, the book they loved the most was a real stinker. So that encourages me to keep on going, do my best, keep putting the words on the page, even though I don't always get it right.


Living authors have mentored me as well, although I've lurked inside their books, not outside their houses.


You can also learn a lot from authors you don't like. Think about why you put a book down after only a few pages. Is it because the setting is non-existent, or the characters boring? Read everything, and take notes on what works or doesn't work for you as a reader. That will not only help you hone your own writing, it will tell you a lot about what you value in a book and what you want to be sure and include or leave out.