Thirty years ago I saw my very first published piece of writing in print. It was an article for an educational magazine with nursery rhyme-based creative writing ideas for kids.
After that first success, I wrote many other magazine articles over a period of a year or two, none of which sold. Eventually I decided to abandon magazine writing and pursue what I really wanted to write — namely children’s books. When I announced this decision to my ever-supportive husband, he said, “Why not? Your articles are being rejected, you might as well write a book.” Believe it not, I am still married to the guy.
Fast forward to today and no one is probably more surprised than I am (except maybe my husband) to find that my list of published books for children has grown to over seventy. Admittedly, more than half of those are books I’ve written in the last eight years with my incredibly talented and hardworking coauthor, Joan Holub, but that’s a topic for another time.
Though there’s always an element of luck involved in selling a book (or a series of books!), I’d like to think I’ve learned some things during the past thirty years that are worth passing on. So here goes…
Advice for New Writers: Five Tips
1. Take the first baby step. Begin by doing ONE thing.
My first one thing was taking a class in writing for children. The structured assignments with feedback from an instructor, plus basic information on how to submit my work, were all extremely helpful, giving me a good scaffold to build on.
2. Keep on taking baby steps.
Why baby steps? Because trying to do too much at once or looking too far ahead can lead to frustration, or worse, make you want to quit before you even get started. Take it one sentence, one paragraph, one chapter, one story, or one writing assignment at a time.
Writing one article a month was another of my small steps when I was first beginning to write. So was the decision to write a book, page by page and chapter by chapter, and then one more book, and another, and another.
3. Surround yourself with resources and connect with other children’s writers.
Read and analyze books that are like the ones you hope to write. Read books about writing. Become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and attend local chapter meetings in your state. Attend a writers’ conference. Join a critique group.
I’ve done all of the above. Besides learning a lot in the process, I’ve become friends with some really wonderful fellow children’s book writers. Joan Holub and I first met at a local SCBWI conference as a matter of fact!
4. Don’t give up.
I’ve cried or raged over some rejections, especially early on in my career. But over the years I’ve learned to develop a thicker skin. As Issac Asimov wrote: “A rejection of a story is not a rejection of the writer. It is no crime to be rejected or even a sin. Editors do not hate a writer when they reject a manuscript and do not therefore plot the writer’s destruction.” Comforting to know, right?
5. Celebrate small victories.
Each baby step is a victory of sorts. Even your first form rejection. Because it means you got up the courage send something out. When you graduate to personal rejections, where editors actually comment on a story while still rejecting it, that’s a victory too. Editors generally won’t take time to write a personal note unless a writer shows promise.
Setting up a regular writing schedule and sticking to it is also a victory. So is completing that first story or article. Celebrate those moments. (In all honesty, I should follow my own advice here more often. Life should be a series of little celebrations, don’t you think?)
Recently, I was interviewed by a blogger who asked me this unusual question: If someone made a movie of your life, would it be a drama, a comedy, action film, science fiction, or other genre of film?
I answered, “a slow-moving documentary, maybe?” Because even though I’ve been writing for thirty years, I am still taking baby steps. With each new book I break down the actions I need to take to finish that book, from gathering ideas to making an outline to writing the first draft, and so on. I chart my daily writing goals (like drafting four to five pages a day, for example) on a calendar, and monitor my progress.
If the above makes me seem a bit like the tortoise in the Aesop’s fable, well, that’s okay with me. I’m a firm believer in “slow and steady wins the race.” Baby steps not only keep me on track with my writing (and in a way that doesn’t overwhelm), they also help me to live a balanced life with time for other activities I value, like reading for pleasure, visiting with family and friends, walking, yoga, and travel.
What baby step will you take today?
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment to enter for your chance to win a FREE paperback copy of Goddess Girls: Medea the Enchantress by Suzanne Williams and Joan Holub! Suzanne will hold a drawing and announce the lucky winner January 30.