Monday, September 15, 2014
Guest Post by children's author Penny Reeve
Here is Penny's answer.
When Paula first approached me to write a guest post for this blog I asked if there was anything in particular she’d like me to write about. She immediately suggested the ‘perks and challenges of writing for children’ and I thought ‘Hmm... interesting topic.’
You see, in many ways writing for children is much the same writing for anyone else. The routines, the discipline, the writers’ block, the solitude, the rejection letters, the acceptances and so forth are all aspects of the craft that any writer can relate to. But there are a few elements about writing for children that are unique, and within these are definitely a few things I’d consider perks or challenges.
The most obvious distinction, and the one I consider the biggest perk of all, is the audience. Children are wonderful to write for. They have an open expectation about them and an almost inbuilt eagerness for imagination. They can be incredibly loyal readers, but also terribly blunt. They are passionate fans and eager cheerleaders, while at the same time are often disempowered in terms of their ability to purchase their own books.
One thing I love about writing for children is the opportunity to step again into their way of viewing the world. The children’s writer must never belittle the child’s view of things, but must always honour and respect the genuine struggles that take place at each stage. As adults we think we have all the answers, and sometimes we do, but if we are going to story about these issues we must begin at a place of understanding and remember what it was like to be a child grappling with these things. As a children’s writer I sometimes feel I am just offering a tool by which a child can grow in their understanding of the world. This is an incredible privilege and something I hope never to take for granted or exploit.
Another serious perk about being a children’s writer is the opportunity to be involved in author visits. I love swapping my writer/mum/house-keeper hat for my author hat and visiting schools! Librarians are such enthusiastic hosts and the audience when a children’s writer arrives is always keen. I love reading my books to the audience I imagined when I was writing it and seeing mouths drop open, or faces grinning at the humour in the stories. To be able to engage children in their love of reading, encouraging them to write, to dream and to story is so exciting!
But writing for children also comes with some challenges. On one hand it’s such an incredibly competitive field for writers to break into, so although I now have more than 15 books in print, it’s been a long hard journey to get here. This is something any published author could relate to.
There are some technical aspects of writing for children that are a challenge in themselves as children’s genres often require adherence to certain, and quite tight, rules. Picture books, for example, are expected to be approximately 600 words in length. To tell a story, complete with conflict, resolution, repetition, word play and genuine emotion in such a small word count is a considerable challenge – though I must admit, it’s also fun!
Slightly older readers have longer attention spans, but not that much. So stories have to be fast paced. Writers may need to ditch that long and beautiful descriptive prose and narrow in on strong stories and gripping characters, always being careful not to water anything down. In my own work I often add the extra challenge of trying to explore some fairly complex faith issues without blowing out the word count or slowing the story down. It’s tight, it’s tough and there is no room for lazy writing. Strangely, I think the difficulty of all this is also one of the reasons I enjoy writing for children!
But for me the biggest challenge in being a children’s author would probably come after the book is in print. Authors these days, regardless of who they write for, are expected to take on some of the marketing and book promotional burden required to find a book its home. As a result I find I am continually struggling with how to market my books to people who may never actually read them: ie the parents/grandparents/aunties/uncles. Even when doing a school visit, which can promote an incredible amount of enthusiasm and potential readers, it’s the parent at the other end of the order form who holds all the power. There is almost a double publicity that needs to be done, to both convince the child reader they’d love my book, and the adult that the book is worth their investment.
But occasionally I receive a comment, or a piece of ‘fan mail’, or a parent will send me an email. Someone somewhere will let me know how much their children have enjoyed my books and grown as a result of something I have written. And that’s when the challenges, even of marketing (which is NOT my favourite thing), all seem worth it. Ups and downs, challenges and perks, I LOVE writing for children. There is nothing I’d rather do.
Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Penny. I take my hat off to anybody who can tell an engaging and thought-provoking story in such a small amount of page space. The hard work which goes into the crafting and shaping must be immense, and I'm certain you've shared a lot of information which others who aspire to write for children will appreciate.