Tag Archives: advice

On Composition: Writing for Children

13 Jun

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When E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s WebStuart Little, and a host of books for adults, was asked if he had a hard time shifting between writing for adults and writing for children, he said,

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”

I fully agree. I’m partial to this method as an author of educational fiction. That’s what I like to call my genre, anyway. It’s made up stories with real-life academics. My goal is to sneak some language, some science, some activism, some human decency into an adventure that, to a child, is just fun.

Not every children’s author aims for the educational, but most children’s books come out of the printing press with a moral or a lesson anyway. Books teach children even when they don’t set out to dictate a fully realized lesson–academic or otherwise–because children soak up EVERYTHING.

It is because books create teachable moments that children’s authors, whether aiming to create a book worthy of lesson plans or not, write UP to children. Why not? What’s the purpose in a book that doesn’t challenge its reader in some way?

Don’t say enjoyment, because books that write up and challenge are enjoyable, too. Frankly, books that don’t stretch the mind get boring. Kids are constantly searching for more. More. More. More.

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So, when writing up to a child, are we missing our target audience? Are we mislabeling our age group? Is it bad that a middle-grade fiction book hangs at the upper end of the age range in difficultly while the story and characters are more enticing to the younger end? Is this bad marketing? Do we need to sell our books to the ages who already use the vocabulary it contains? Do we say, “Well, if that book is too easy, they should buy a book for an older child,” and continue on our way?

No to all of those! Because aging up in books in order to get the desired complexity often results in children reading age-inappropriate story-lines simply so they aren’t bored with its delivery. Writing up to children means delivering appropriate challenges.

And to that I say: why wouldn’t you want to teach that eight-year-old something new within an appropriate and amusing context? Make them ask their parents for a definition.  Make them open a dictionary! Make them revisit first grade methods of sounding it out. Make them say the word wrong a few times before someone hears them and corrects them.

How many times have you heard someone mispronounce a complex word? They didn’t say it wrong because they’re unintelligent. They said it oddly because they learned it from READING! Thank a book that challenged that person somewhere along the way!

So go ahead and put that tough word in your kid’s book. Challenge them academically (whether your book is academic or not) by trusting them with a sturdy vocabulary, honest delivery, and creative contexts. They will accept all of it.

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Exhausted is the new Sexy? No.

21 Feb

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It would be easy to leave this page blank.

But that’s not what writers do.

I could make it sound like I always want to write, that it’s always easy, and that I’m ecstatic to be doing this right now. And sometimes all those things are true. But, at this moment, it’s ten in the morning, sunny, and 72 degrees out–in FEBRUARY!–and I’m inside talking to you. No offense.

It’s one thing to write advice for writers about useful topics like grammar, composition, and publication. These are important parts of the craft. They need attention. But, it paints this pristine picture of writers, including me, doing everything they’re supposed to do and doing it the right way (often the first time). It doesn’t show the scraps of paper, the huge chunks of deleted text, or the blank stare of writer’s block. It doesn’t show the restless shifting in my seat or convey the heavy, sluggish sensation of having zero motivation for getting anything accomplished today.

So this is me trying to write something additionally useful even when I don’t feel like it. This is me saying I’d like to take a break, that the weather’s great and I’m missing it. 

What’s useful about that?

The acknowledgement that rest and enjoyment are equally important parts of the creative process when pit against research, brainstorming/daydreaming, and writing. Without it, we burn out. A small, voluntary break now might prevent a longer, necessary break later on.

The quicker we begin to reject the glamorization and glorification of overwork, the sooner we stop applauding ourselves and others for how exhausted we are, the more guilt-free enjoyment we can have and still get things done.

I’ve seen so many memes circulating among the creative communities online about, “you should be writing” and, “it’s not research, it’s procrastination.” This is ridiculous. Yes, at some point, you will have to write. Yes, you should finish what you start. But the ideas that we have to complete it in the smallest amount of time, that we need to pull all-nighters or we’re not dedicated to finishing, that sleep is a weakness and procrastination isn’t a productive way of letting the mind wander, is harmful. And heaven forbid we stop our feverish writing long enough to remember to eat. Don’t glamorize forgetting to eat. (It happens sometimes if you’re really in a flow, and a flow is great, but celebrate the productivity of the writing, not the forgetting to eat part. Come on.) Since when is “overwork” the same as “hard work,” y’all?

Rejecting these flawed equivalencies is why this post, written when I didn’t want to, is useful. Its existence proves my point. I saw advice somewhere that said authors should post new content to their websites two to three times a week. It’s Wednesday and I hadn’t created anything new yet. By some construct of society, I obligated myself to do this.  And I would have felt guilty if I didn’t stick to my plan.

But there has to be a balance between doing what you said you were going to do and cutting yourself some slack.

And so that I’m taking my own advice and not just preaching, this will be my only post this week. 1. Little. Article. One opinion no one asked for. You’re welcome.

(that’s me telling myself thank you.)

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