Writing for Children and an Interview


Several months ago a woman with the Institute of Children's Literature contacted me and asked if I'd like to be in the Winner's Circle on their website. The ICL is where I started my writing journey. My desire at the time was to learn to write for children who were in the middle grades. I applied and took the course which consisted of ten lessons to be done through correspondence over 18 months to 2 years. 

The lessons were sent by snail mail, and I had to wait a few weeks to receive my personal instructor's comments, which she mailed to me via snail mail, as well. Now, I'm sure it is done through email and far speedier. 

If you would like to read the interview, you will find it here. The ICL likes to feature one of their graduates who has been published. I felt very honored to have been asked since I had graduated quite some time ago.

I took the course around twenty-five years ago and loved learning and doing the lessons. My earliest publications were stories for children. Two of the magazine covers in which my stories have appeared are above. I've also had stories in several other children's' magazines and on ezines in the USA and Canada as well as a children's magazine titled Red Squirrel published in China. 

Is it worth taking a course from someplace like the ICL? I think it is, especially if you are at the beginning of your writing journey. The ICL has been in business since 1969. That's 50 years which should say something about the quality of the lessons they offer. I'm sure there are other places where you can take a course to learn to write for children and some that offer lessons for those interested in various kinds of writing for adults--fiction, memoir, essays, poetry etc. Have your old friend, Google, help you find them. The Institute for Writers is a partner of the ICL but geared to adult writing.

Do some checking as to the quality of the course, how satisfied the graduates are, length of time the courses have been offered and what kind of help they give in helping you to become a published writer. 

There are people in this world who think writing for children is easy. Believe me, it's not. You have a lot to cover in a minimum number of words. Adult fiction can be thousands of words, but most children's publications max at 800-1000. Even so, you are to tell a story with a beginning, middle and ending and solve whatever problem your protagonist might have. Writing for very young children allows for an even smaller word count. Each word holds importance. Nothing wasted here.

Write for teens or YA as it is termed, and your word count will increase considerably. Plots must be more involved, and those who write for this age group must write with all the same requirements as those who write for adults but need to gear it to their age group. The cardinal rule is to not write 'down' to kids. They nab it every time and quickly move on. 

I am the perfect example of a writer who learned to write for children, then expanded her horizons to include essays, memoir, nonfiction articles, fiction for adults and poetry. And blogging! If you learn the basics for any kind of writing, you can move into other genres. 

I still enjoy writing for children on occasion, although it is not my main thrust now. I recently started a new story called Henry and Boomer. I managed to get Henry into a nasty situation but haven't figured out the ending of the story yet. A half-finished first draft is simmering in my files. One of these days, the end will come to me, and I'll pull out the draft and work on it again. 

Have you ever walked through the children's section in your library or local bookstore? You should take some time and browse the collection. It's a big part of the publishing world. Getting a children's book or story published is not easy. It is every bit as competitive as the adult writing world.

Again, I hope you'll take a couple of minutes and read my interview

I had a 

Bits and Pieces and an Interesting Writing Exercise

Summer Garden

I received a newsletter with the notice of an annual poetry contest. What is interesting is that they will accept already published poems as well as ones that have not been published. $1 entry per poem which is doable for most people. Read the announcement and guidelines here. I have no idea what the prizes amount to as they are determined by a percentage of the entry fee monies. There are additional nonmonetary prizes, as well.

I have a request. If you like a post, please consider sharing it with other writers. It helps them find new blogs to read and helps me get new readers.

If you read and enjoy a blog, consider signing on as a Follower. This lets the blogger know that you like what you see. I know that not all blogs have a Followers section, but many do.

I very much appreciate those who have signed on as a Follower. Also, those who take time to comment either here on the blog or on a facebook page where they have seen it.

Now for the writing exercise. This is one I did quite some time ago and found to be a lot of fun. 

Writing Prompt: Write a still life with something ordinary and obvious, such as an aging car, a pile of laundry, a tired dog, a half-eaten bowl of cereal or a summer garden like the one pictured above. Try to personalize the object but not let us know what it is until the end.

This is the one I wrote:

It sits, tired and worn out, on my dining room floor. Sticks out like a sore thumb, as it’s not an item one normally sees amongst the china, silver, and crystal that fill my china cabinet. Nor would you see it resting on top of the glass dining table, or even on one of the chairs that surround the table. It’s cord is wrapped around its body, a thin layer of dust covers all. Once reliable, once acclaimed for all it accomplished, now it sits in shame, head (if it had one!) down. One too many temper tantrums and it became banished from my office. Out with the old, in with the new. And yet, I have a tiny piece of nostalgia resting within. That old printer served me well for a good number of years. It printed, copied, scanned and faxed whenever I asked. It gobbled more ink than I liked, but don’t they all? And here it is, on the floor, sad and forlorn. Maybe there’s hope for a new home. I’m looking for a place to recycle it. A repairman with patience and nerves of steel just might get it going again. It’s a foster child looking for someone to love it again.

Looking For Places To Market Your Writing

This woman wants to be a published writer. She works hard on her stories and essays, even writes a poem or two occasionally. She revises and edits until she thinks her piece is ready to submit. Then comes trouble!

Finding places to send our writing in hopes of publication is a major.....hmmm, what is the best word here...chore, task, pain in the rear, headache. Take your choice. Maybe it's a bit of all those words. I think we all agree that it is as hard to find the proper place to send your writing to as it is to write in the first place. No editor is going to call you and ask you to send your latest piece of writing. He is not going to steal through your window at night and slip that piece from your computer desk. No. It's up to you to send your work and up to you to find the best fit for your work.

Finding places to submit to isn't really difficult if you're alert and pay attention to what other writers say, what you see on social media, or hear at a writer's conference. 

One of the groups I found and joined on Facebook is Calls for Submissions. They add new content regularly. It's a wonderful place to visit on a frequent basis. If you're already on Facebook, go to the search box at the top of your home page and type in Calls for Submissions. It should take you to that page where you can then click on Join. Their new calls for submissions will then pop up on your own page off and on, or you can make a check every few days on their page. If you're not on Facebook, do consider joining. Yes, you hear all kinds of negative comments about this place, but if you use it to your advantage, to help you in your writing journey, it's going to be nothing but beneficial. All the people who do so will be miles ahead of you. This is not the only page for writing submissions. Again, just type in those three little words and you'll get a list of all the Facebook pages that have to do with the subject. 

As an example, here's a link to a website that has a list of 41 places where you can submit personal essays. It's a real treasure trove. Even when scanning the list, I found quite a few I want to go back when I have more time and read thoroughly. 

Use Twitter to your advantage, too. Many writers and editors and publishers tweet regularly. Follow some of them and watch for announcements about writing needed. 

I also received news of a call for submissions for a brand new Chicken Soup for the Soul book. The book title will be You Go, Girl. You'll find the details at the bottom of this page. 

When I went to google and typed in Calls for Submissions, this page is what popped up. You could spend hours going through the lengthy list. I find the best method is to scan that first page, click on the ones that interest me, then move on the next page and do the same. You'll find that, as you move farther along, the calls might be outdated. The early pages will have the most current needs. 

When you do a search, putting in a few more words will result in a narrower list that might be helpful if you're looking for a home for something specific. Maybe you wrote a personal essay about a medical issue in your family, so instead of putting just Call for Submissions, you should add something like 'personal medical issues' or whatever it happens to be. 

The more you search for places where you can send your writing, the easier ti will become. I'm always on the lookout for new places to find markets. You should be, too. Find them on Social Media, in writing newsletters, wrting websites, conversations with  other writers. Keey your eyes and ears open.

Appreciation for Those Who Write Books

I saw a funny photo on Facebook this morning. Hundreds of scrabble tiles were pictured tossed helter-skelter. The caption was Buying a book from Ikea! It made me laugh, and then I looked again at all those tiles with letters and started thinking about what a book it takes to create a book.

Then I remembered the photo-quote in my files that talked about what a book is. It's not only a cute drawing but some lovely thoughts, as well. I like the part where it says the ...an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Even though thousands might read the same book, each reader feels like the author is speaking directly to him/her. 

Back to the letter tiles. Consider the number of letters it takes to make the words that make up a book. While a carpenter who makes furniture is the master of his trade, so is the writer. Every author has to know how to put those letters together to make words, then how to put the words into sentences and paragraphs which have meaning and will hook readers and keep them reading. 

The successful author not only uses those letters to create an entertaining story, but he/she must do so using good mechanics of writing. Without them, even a fine story begins to get lost in a muddle. 

Maybe the quote above is a bit outdated because we can now read books on a Kindle or some other online place. Some readers love reading electronically while others much prefer holding that golden book in their hands. They love turning the pages. Count me as one of those readers. I have read a few books on my Kindle on my laptop, but it would never be my first choice. 

The author of a book starts the process, but then an editor and printer and marketer all step in and help a book come to its final phase where it is sold or loaned to someone who is eager to read those letters combined into words turned into paragraphs and chapters and... 

The next time you read a book give some thought to how it was created. For those who are writers, do the same. You are the ones who know the intricate details of how a book is created. I am in full agreement that yes, a book is an astonishing thing.

Writers--Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Yesterday, I ran across a sheet of journal prompts. Covered front and back, so there were lots of choices. As I scanned the list, one caught my eye and I stopped. It reminded me of an exercise that my online writing group did several years ago.

First. let me show you the prompt. You begin writing with the following words:

  • My strengths are...
  • My weaknesses are...
Of course, I am suggesting you do this in reference to your writing. Notice that the short list begins with a positive thought. Put humility aside. Write about as many strengths as you can think of. Then, bite the bullet, and admit to the places where you are weak. As the day goes on, you'll probably think of more to add to each one. When you do, stop and put it on the list. Do this for just one day or even a few. No doubt, you'll think of new points to add to what you wrote at the beginning. 

The exercise that my online writing group did was devised by a wonderful poet from Japan who now lives in the USA. She is a kind, thoughtful person. She suggested that we write (via email) to one another. She said we should tell the person what we liked about their writing, what stood out, what strengths they showed. She did not mention weaknesses; that might have been a bit difficult. 

I received a lot of emails that next week from members of the group telling me what they liked about my writing, what my strong points were. Not everyone wrote to every person. We selected the several we wanted to write to and did it privately. No one else in the group saw what had been written. We all like to receive compliments, but reading those emails was such an ego booster that my confidence level rose several points. Some compliments were things that I knew I did fairly well, but others surprised me. It was a kind of "Who? Me?" reaction.  Knowing what my fellow writers thought of me meant a lot. As I said, they graciously skipped the things they thought I needed to improve on. Those came across in a nice way when they critiqued my work. 

If you're in an online writing group, you might give thought to doing this exercise. Online is perfect as it is private, but if you are in a face to face group, ask members to write to one or more of the people in the group telling them what they like about that person's writing. At the next meeting, the papers can be given to the respective members. The only risk I see in doing this is that a few members may not receive any papers. Maybe, instead, draw names and write to that person only about the strengths in their writing, the things you like about their writing. 

When doing an exercise like this, honesty is necessary if the exercise is going to help you see how well you do in some parts of your writing life and where you need to improve. Every writer can contribute to both lists. No writer is strong in absolutely every facet of the writing world. 

Be proud of your strengths. Some parts of writing come naturally to certain people, while we struggle with others. Keep that list of strengths where you can be reminded. It's especially good to see it on days when nothing appears to be working right. Or two rejections pop up in your email.  You should also keep the weakness list where you can see it so you will continue to work on those items.

I intended to use an image of a strong person and one of a weak, exhausted one next to the first. I finally decided to use just the strong man as I'd much rather we strive to be like him. 

Many Moms Were the Family Doctor--Include Her Treatments in Your Family Stories

We write many things in our family stories and memoir pieces, both happy and sad. Have you ever included what your mother did for you when you had a bad cold or the flu or some childhood disease like measles, mumps, or chickenpox? Or an injury?

Our family stories serve as a history of our family as well as being informative and entertaining. Think back to your growing-up years. We all had an illness of some kind now and then. Write about the methods your mom used to help you feel better. Those of us who are senior citizens didn't have the benefit of all the miracle anti-biotics out today. 

Did your mom have any special treatments? Was there always a bottle of mercurochrome in the medicine cabinet? Campophenique? Calamine lotion? Vicks Vaporub? Did she make some awful concoction that smelled bad and tasted worse? 

When my brothers and I had a cold, my mother made us take a warm bath, then rubbed Vicks on our chests, covered it with a piece of flannel under our pajama top. "Hurry up and get in bed and pull the covers up," she'd say. The idea being that heat would make the Vicks work better and help to loosen the congestion in our chest. 

And yes, we had a bottle of mercurochrome on hand at all times. Any scrape or cut was washed with soap, then painted with the evil red liquid. Every kid in the neighborhood sported a blotch of red on a knee or elbow now and then. 

My dad's sure cure for a crying, teething baby was to rub a bit of whiskey on the gums. It worked, but today, he'd probably have been arrested for child abuse. 

Include pieces in your Family Stories book about the times you were very sick and what your mother did to make you feel better. Whenever I was sick enough to stay in bed, my mother came to the bedroom about mid-afternoon with a warm, wet washcloth. She'd wipe my face and hands and then brush my hair a bit. Not medicine but it always made me feel better for a little while. 

Many of us were given a bowl of good, hot chicken soup. "This will cure what ails you." That was the statement that often accompanied the soup. 

What did your mother do when you were sick? How were you treated? With home remedies or over the counter drugstore meds? Did she call a doctor, or was she the doctor of choice in your family? 

The one time a doctor made a house call for me as a child frightened me more than the medical problem I had--a severe mastoiditis in my ears. Why? Because my mom never, ever called a doctor to come to our house. I was sure I must be dying. Only that event would have moved her to spend the money on a housecall. 

Spend some time remembering those times when you had measles or mumps or a bad cut or a terrible cold. Then, write about it. 

Writers Benefit From Quiet Places

A few people might look at today's quote and say "Huh?" I think it's a pretty profound statement that fits our writing journeys quite well. 

Consider rejections. We all get them. We all hate them. If we stop ranting about getting yet another rejection, step back and look at what is actually happening. Is there a pattern of any kind? Are you getting rejections from the same kind of markets? Is it only with your fiction? Or your poetry? Or your family stories? Use some quiet time to assess the situation. None of those may be a factor, but they could be. At least, take the time to be quiet and look at the overall picture.

I've been to conferences where one or two people ask all the questions. They may be genuinely seeking answers, but some like to be recognized, toot their own writing horn a bit. Those are the people who could benefit from being quiet and listening carefully. 

If you're having difficulty in a writing project, take some time to slip away to a quiet place and do some thinking. Get away from your home surroundings, the people who are needing your attention, and head for the quietest, most peaceful place you know. Maybe it's your garden where you can sit and sip a cup of tea, drink in the summer blooms around you. Perhaps, it's by the side of a lake or a river. For some reason, being by water is soothing. Choose a secluded spot where there are no other people. Then sit and listen to what your own mind is telling you. The answer to a writing problem may come to you. If it doesn't, don't fret. Instead, drink in the serene break you've taken from your writing difficulty. It's possible that, when you return home, you'll see the way to fix whatever was wrong. 

Even going for a walk in a quiet place can be helpful. Go to an empty church and sit there by yourself. Pray if you wish, but it's not necessary. Or to a museum that is not filled with crowds, one that you can sit on a bench and absorb the beauty around you and listen to the stillness.

Be quiet and listen. You might be amazed at what you hear. 

Writing for Children and an Interview

  Several months ago a woman with the Institute of Children's Literature contacted me and asked if I'd like to be...