At our book launch party a charming little girl named Mikayla informed me that she wanted to be a children’s book author. She treated me a bit like a celebrity and wanted to know all about my journey to authorhood. The role of celebrity suited me rather well, I thought.
I love kids. Especially the forward ones. Mikayla informed me that she had written a few stories that she was rather proud of then asked unabashedly, “Could you give me the name of your publisher so I can get my stories published too?”
I told her I loved her enthusiasm and that there are many young authors who have written spectacular books: Eragon, and Frankenstein… just to name a couple. But I did say, before I give you my publishers contact info I have to know a few things first. I then proceeded to ask a question that seems to always strike apprehension in budding writers; “Have you ever had anyone other than yourself read your stories?”
Mikayla had not. This led to a lively discussion about the revision process.
You see, stories are not built in a day.
Stories, like most children, grow and change and get better with each revision. Once you have a story you are fairly pleased with, it’s time to send it to some people you trust to be honest with you. Select as big and as varied group of intelligent readers as you can and tell them exactly what you want from them.
What you do NOT want out of a reader:
- Someone to say, “Oh my gosh! Your first draft was perfect! You are so amazing! Don’t change a thing!” This type of person is better suited in a friend role.
- Someone to say, “This is really bad and I think you should stop writing altogether and get a real job.” his type of person sucks in every way. Just delete them from your friend list…Unless it’s family, in which case, have a Happy Thanksgiving!
What you do want out of a reader:
- Someone to tell you what makes sense and what doesn’t.
- Someone to correct spelling and grammar… if you are getting close to complete. Because you will always miss something
- Someone to suggest plot twists that are more exciting. Or directions that might make more sense.
- Someone who will give you honest feedback.
- Someone who can correct inaccurate assumptions.
Until you’ve had 3 to 5 intelligent readers give you their honest feedback on the story, you really haven’t even started yet.
Early on in my writing career I took criticism on my writing super hard. I’ll never forget when I had a reader who was a poetry student read an early draft of Candy Monster. At the time I was trying to make it all rhyme. This intelligent reader literally slashed out every sentence (with red ink) and printed off a dozen examples of different kinds of poetry and stapled it to my now bloody draft.
I came home that night and cried. Real tears of frustration over a story I was now completely sure I wasn’t smart enough to tell. (Boy eats so much candy he turns into Candy Monster. Sounds simple right?) You must have hard and honest readers on your team who will tear your work apart and allow you to rebuild from the ashes something worth reading. I can’t emphasize enough the power of a good readers.
(FYI- Candy Monster totally doesn’t rhyme… I’m pretty sure you have to like sell your soul to the devil to get the power to make an entire book rhyme and still resemble a story.)
Another piece of advice I give to people interested in writing is to play dirty. By that, I mean tell a few people that you really respect–people you want to think highly of you– that you are writing a book. It’s an wonderfully dirty trick that you play on yourself that keeps yourself motivated to keep writing even when your reader has just harshly drawn a red line through every line of your story.
Guilt works for me. Maybe you are kinder to yourself and have found that internal pool of motivation. Good for you.
You are going to want to quit on your story. The difference between you and you-as-an-author is that you-as-an-author, didn’t quit.
Another thing to keep in mind when writing is word count. I hate word count but you must be aware of it. After you have written and revised a dozen times and you are starting to feel like you are almost there, it is worthwhile to check your word count against the age group you are writing for and make adjustments. If you are writing for children, you will almost always be way way over word count and then you are faced with the awful task of removing the fat. Look at every sentence and find a way to make it shorter without losing it’s meaning. For example:
- “The little red-haired girl spent the whole splendid day eating blueberries in the sunshine.”
- “She ate blueberries all day.”
I know it seems less but it get the point across and if it doesn’t add to the plot…drop it. When you are writing children’s books you have to remember to leave space for the illustrations to tell the story too. One thing I had to continue to remind myself was, “The more you say the less they will remember”.
Once you feel like you have something really worthwhile and all your usual readers are happy with it, get one more reader. Someone who has never read the story before. They need to have fresh eyes on it because your other readers may think the story makes sense because they read your previous drafts and whatnot. You will not regret one more reader. Trust me.
When you are so totally done with your story, leave it alone… for a month or so and then come back and see how it feels.
Is it brilliant? If it is. You’re ready to submit. If it’s a little lack luster… YAY more revising!
Good luck. This is the hardest best part of being a writer and if you can get through this great and terrible section of your life you might just make it to the rejection stage of your life…
Stay tuned for part 4: Submissions!