The initial spark that ignited my desire to write picture books was actually because of my sister, Roxanne. She was a fine art major, and for her final portfolio she wanted to illustrate a picture book. She asked me to write the text.
I was very excited about the idea, but quite perplexed at the same time. I had always loved telling stories, and dabbled in creative writing in college, but picture books were a foreign language.
I did not fall gracefully into my existence as a children’s writer, in fact, it was quite the opposite. I spent years drafting my ideas, shelving them, rewriting them, and shelving them again. I even hired an editor to help me mark up my manuscripts.
Through this tedious process, I learned several truths about writing books for children. Hopefully, these truths will perhaps help another fledgling children’s writer get past some of the initial awkwardness of navigating the overwhelmingly vast business of writing for children, and help them find a solid place to start. Whether they are looking to dip their toes into the world of writing for children, or desiring to go all in and seek out an agent.
Truth #1: You Have To Join SCBWI
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is an amazing resource for for children’s writers regardless of where they are at in their career. As a member of SCBWI, you have access to a wealth of information and resources in the kid lit community. Annual winter and summer conferences are held in New York and LA, where writers can workshop their projects and sign up for one on ones with industry professionals. If that is beyond your comfort level, SCBWI has state and regional chapters that offer opportunities to schmooze with other writers and critique work along with more exceptional workshops. Once you are a member you have access to the newsletter and you have priority when booking conferences and workshops. Joining SCBWI was the first, and best, major piece of advice I got from one of my mentors.
Truth #2: You Need To Read A Lot!
When I first started writing picture books, I was 27 years old, newly married, and I had zero children of my own. Diving into the children’s section at the public library was a little awkward initially, but seeing what was coming out, and what was already saturating the market helped me understand the craft more. I was also able to see just how much the industry had changed. The picture books of my childhood where very different from the ones that were currently selling.
Now, I am 35, and I have a 4 year old son. Our trips to the library and our local bookstore result in us leaving with more books than we can typically carry, and our nighttime routine consists of reading and rereading which ever books we are obsessed with at the moment (typically anything involving trains).
Truth #3: You Need Friends
For me, reaching out took a lot, but making friends with other writers has helped me to keep going when I didn’t think I wanted to write anymore. Seeing others at different places in their writing journey has helped me to keep things in perspective, and to realize that the struggle to break into the industry is real for all of us.
Start with looking into your local SCBWI to see if there is a connect group that meets in your area. My local group has been a life line for me! If your area does not have one check your chapter’s site for critique groups. If there is not one that fits your needs, you can post your information for others who are looking for the same thing.
Social media is another great way to connect with other writers! I connected with some fabulous critique partners through the page KidLit 411 Manuscript Swap.
There are many groups to be found through Twitter and Facebook where writers can ask each other questions. If you are not comfortable at first, join and follow the posts to see what discussions are going on until you have a burning question you would like to get input on. There truly is no dumb question, and the strict guidelines in these groups only allow for positive and helpful advice.
Truth #4: You Need A Writing Routine
My initial practice of writing whenever the mood struck was not effective. If you are holding off to write when you are in the mood, you are opening your self up to a lot of excuses.
Setting up a routine to write (no matter how short or sloppy) gets you into the mindset that writing is a craft and it takes work to see results. For me, I have come to learn that I have to write something every day. It could be a one sentence synopsis for a story idea, but I have to keep the juices flowing so that I don’t fall into the void of my life is too crazy to write right now.
Truth #5: You Are Not Alone
If you have that incessant itch to write, do it! Like life, writing is a personal journey with an individual time line. However, it is important to know that you are not alone in your journey. With all of its joy and heart ache, its triumphs and pitfalls, it is an experience to be shared with others.
When we share our talents and our vulnerability with the world, we open our selves up to opportunity. So, go write!