Writing for Children - Tips
My very first book was Kids Can Cook, published in 1997 by a small children's publisher called Children's Press. I've written books for all ages from babies and toddlers to age 10+. And I'd like to share what I've learned about writing for younger readers with you in this section of the website. I've interviewed some of my favourite children's writers and asked them for their writing tips and my own writing tips are below.
I hope it's helpful! See a list of fantastic fiction for all ages here.
I also teach writing for children and teens - for more information see Teaching and Mentoring.
Sarah's Writing Tips
1/ If you want to write for children you must read children’s books – read picture books, early readers, middle grade novels (age 9+), teen books (age 11+) and YA novels (young adult). Ask a bookseller or librarian to recommend some award winning books in each age category. Or check out my own list of recommended children's books.
Children’s books are not a genre, they are an age group. Within each age group there are books in every genre: fantasy, comedy, science fiction, history etc, yes, even picture books. You cannot write a book for age 4 to 14 – you need to narrow it down a little. Different age groups like different things from a book.
Once you have decided on an age group and/or settled on an age for your main character or characters, it’s time to start writing. Children like to read up an age – they want to read about characters that are older than they are.
2/ Write as often as you can and keep the story in your head. Think about your characters and your plot as you walk the dog, commute, wash up. Your subconscious will take over and unknot plot problems if you let it. Make time to write but also make time to think. If you want to write badly enough, you will find the time.
Take your head out of your phone – allow your mind time to mull over your story. Think deeply about your characters and what they WANT, what motivates them to live, what drives them.
3/ Carry a notebook. Whenever you think of an idea, jot it down. Keep another notebook beside your bed. It’s amazing how quickly ideas can disappear into the ether.
4/ Some writers like to plot, others don’t. Planners in life are often story plotters; people who crave spontaneity might be best not to plot too carefully. If you are starting out I’d suggest you put some plot notes in place to keep you writing.
5/ Don’t give up – stick your bottom to your chair and keep going. To finish a book you need bum glue. Whatever you do, finish your book. It’s a huge accomplishment and very satisfying. Most writers feel like giving up at some stage – a shiny new idea seduces them away from their novel – but keep going. Most people don’t finish their book – be the exception.
Allow your first draft to be messy and full of mistakes. You can clean it all up later. Just keep moving forwards. Finish your first draft. Finish!
E.L. Doctorow said: ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ He’s right, just keep going.
6/ The difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is tenacity, resilience, grit. Give me a naturally talented, outstanding writer with no drive and a good writer with the energy and enthusiasm to work on a book with all their heart and soul and I’ll bet on the good writer every time.
7/ Write from the heart. Write because you have a burning desire to tell your story. Write the book you’d write if you only had a few months to live. Write with your heart. Rewrite with your head. The first draft is only the beginning of the journey. Good luck!