On the 1st day and 2nd day of Christmas the Slushpile gave to me:
A jolt of PANIC.
And two pangs of GUILT.
So much writing in my submissions tray - so much dedication, so many writers hoping, so little time to look at it. So many still waiting for responses, so many times I would have to say No ... and not because the writing was bad.
On the 3rd day of Christmas the Slushpile gave to me 3 QUESTIONS.
Why do so many want to write for children?
Why do children’s writers keep going - against a competitive avalanche, bleak commercial climate, awful money?
And why are children’s editors such a passionately committed breed that they keep going looking for special books, in spite of all …?
In fact, What’s so special about writing for children?
|Photo: Teri Terry (the dog's name is Hellboy)|
On the 4th day I woke with 4 ANSWERS:
Children’s writers and editors know that books:
- Open doors – allow youngsters to see possibilities beyond their own backyard, to dream, imagine, participate in other lives, hopes, fears, choices, mistakes …
- Give them a tantalising sense of the variety and complexity of life, enlarging vision and expanding horizons.
- Enable them to explore motivation, action and consequence, encouraging reflection.
- Foster a sense of self, In relation to the world and to others, and help make sense of highs and lows in their own lives.
|With thanks to Juliet Clare Bell for the loan of children|
On the 5th day the Slushpile gave to me 5 INSIGHTS:
Good children’s writers ...
- Don’t preach – understand the power of story to change minds, bring insight
- Keep story at the heart of their books
- Have an unerring sense of audience
- Make the reader simply want to read another
- Don’t stop at one or two drafts – they know how hard it is to keep young readers interested – such fierce critics they are, so quick to vote with their feet – if you lose them on the first or second page, you just won’t get them back …
On the 6th day of Christmas the Slushpile gave to me – 6 (Panicky) THOUGHTS on all the other things a writer has to do beyond writing, to help get stories to their audience, but which sucks up precious time needed for writing.
Post-op Vanessa Harbour
writes through the pain
- Kept your family sweet so they let you keep this bizarre obsession called ‘writing my book’. Social media: when you’ve tweeted, updated facebook, blogged, posted something on your website, answered your emails, written your thankyous to anyone who has supported you (because we’re a friendly, mutually supportive lot) is there actually any time left to write?
- Done what you can to reciprocate – how much we gain from and owe to that network of knowledge, mutual help, and warmth, so it can’t be left on the back burner.
- Stopped yourself tidying the socks drawer, or feeding the birds, or spending a couple of hours reading what everyone else is getting up to …. Or mending the roof with gutter tape, digging the toothbrush out of the drain (both true), or being trapped in waiting in for someone else’s parcel, because you’re not really doing anything important, only writing …
- Met your audience – oh, they can be a fearsome and terrifyingly knowledgeable lot! And all that essential research and checking of facts for that book, that timeline or map you have to make so you don’t tie yourself in a knot, but which, once made, you never look at again ...
On the 7th day of Christmas I banished panic and the Slushpile gave me some CALMER REFLECTIONS – you couldn’t get more universal or grand themes than you find in children’s books – so here are just seven of them.
- Choice for good or bad
- Love, friendship/ loyalty/betrayal
- Guilt/redemption, power, obsession, corruption
- Forces that shape what we are, what we become
- Our place in past and future and our responsibility for that
- Our relationship with forces of nature
On the 8th 9th 10th and 11th days of Christmas I meant to enjoy my writing life, but had no thoughts, insights, no inspiration whatsoever, and spent a long time tidying the stationary, sorting the pens, labelling the files …. and hoped, hoped, hoped, that maybe some kind of coherence would materialise …. Well, something did – because …
On the 12th day of Christmas the Slushpile united my editor and my writer self and gave me these WORDS OF WISDOM for all new writers – and myself:
- Write the story that’s in you – don’t write for the market – it’s a fickle thing, and before you’ve finished, it will have changed. Stories written with conviction and passion are the ones that stand the test of time.
- Find the voice of the novel, lively, truthful and apt, one that connects the reader to the story like an umbilical cord.
- Read widely – constantly renew your sense of the best writing out there, the infinite range of possibilities in style, in plots and ideas. Imbibe the skills first through being a reader.
- Find the core of your story – it’s thematic centre so that everything in the writing shapes itself to drive that story forward. If you’re not clear about this, there will be a muddiness about it that your reader will feel ...
- Find what’s special about what you want to write, and shape the story so that specialness is visible from the outset to entice readers in.
- Make your characters drive the story, no puppets manipulated by an ever present all-seeing author.
- Make them live and breathe on the page, get into their heads, see it from their view.
- Make them talk the way they would to each other, not like YOU would.
- Delight in language, its range and colour and rhythms.
- Read your stuff aloud to yourself – no better way to identify stumbling in the language, or a pedestrian rhythm, or repeated ideas, let alone phrases.
- Put it aside when it’s finished, and leave lots of time. Then read it as a reader. You will instantly see that it’s not yet finished ….
- Most of all, have fun. There’s a much better chance your readers will!