Sunday, 11 April 2010

How Can I Become a Proper Children's Writer?

I like to keep up with the latest trends in writing, and it seems to me that I am letting the side down in a number of areas. As a form of therapy, I'm posting my failings and perhaps you can offer your wisdom about how I can become one of these proper writers that I hear so much about.
  1. I can only write one book at a time

    Possibly because of the (relatively) short length of their books, children's writers constantly have a plethora of projects on the go. Why, you're simply nobody unless you're simultaneously writing a post-apocalyptic YA romance, a middle-grade action-fantasy, an early-readers' project about plankton, and a special-interest picture book all about Alfie and his struggle with alopecia.

    I, by comparison, spent 4 years writing a YA comedy that basically stank and moved straight on to spending two years (so far) writing and rewriting some book about zombies. I am a serial monogamist and frankly, I'm surrounded by swingers.

  2. I can only write a few hundred words a day

    Compounding the previous sin, I am also physically unable to write a number of words in one day that numbers more than about eight hundred (and even that's pushing it). Others seem to be trotting out thousands in a morning and posting their total on Facebook for everyone to see. I am not - for shamefully obvious reasons.

  3. My characters never run off and start writing the story by themselves

    Writers are constantly saying that their characters write the story for them or that they take the plot in a direction that the writer had not expected. How does this happen? When I'm writing a story, it's me. Writing a story. When a character needs to do or say something, I think about this and then they do or say it. This is, as far as I am aware, how writing works.

    Have I missed something here? Some wondrous way of communing with my subconscious? Do I just need to "let the characters into my life" or is it a multiple-personality thing that requires electro-convulsive therapy?

    When talking about Kill Bill Part Two, Quentin Tarantino moaned about how he intended the Bill character to only come in at the end of the film, but that Bill kept writing himself into more and more scenes. This just strikes me as QT trying to rationalise his inability to properly edit his scripts. His films bloat, either pleasingly in the case of Inglourious Basterds or maddeningly in the case of Kill Bill. What would have been a wonderful two and a half hour movie was stretched to a truly bum-numbing four hours and then explained away by being split into two parts.

  4. I am rubbish at making up stories for my children at bedtime

    Successful children's authors often eulogise about how their bestselling book began as a set of stories told to little Sebastian and Persephone just as they were laying their angelic little heads upon the goose feather pillow.

    "Tell us another one, Daddy!" they cried, and so the author was hyped, night after night, into a Scheherazade-grade frenzy; telling of crossbow-toting ninja fishcakes and scheming damsels who kept putting themselves in distress to nab the perfect suitor.

    In comparison, I joking told my children of a story in an anthology called "The Cheese Who Could Not Talk". When I went on to read an entirely non-dairy-related tale, there were howls of disapproval and a very awkward 2 minutes where I tried and entirely failed to make up some drivel about a mute stilton and his three mouse accomplices. I might consider myself a storyteller, but only with four years' preparation.

Thank you for hearing my confession - comments in the usual box.



  1. Hah, brilliant...I thought no 4 was my own secret shame. Was so glad when they reached the age when they didn't expect me to make up stories.

  2. Nick, I'm right there with you. To my added shame, my 7 year old has asked me not to try to get one story published as she wants to write her own version. She'll probably have better luck!

  3. Hysterical Nick, so funny. Though I have got more than one project on the go and I do suffer from book Bloat - Lol and Lol some more.....think your bloat analysis is bang on the nail - it's because i just don't know when to shut up

  4. Nick, what a wonderful post! Thank you for cheering up my day. Funny, funny, funny!

  5. Loved this - and I'll be passing round the link - despite doing 2, 3 and 4 on a regular basis and freely blogging and tweeting about it. Oops. Sorry, guys. (Does this mean that one day I'll write Reservoir Dogs? Cool.)

  6. I have problems with 1 and 4 - not that I have any kids, but for other people´s. More than one book at a time??!! How? Impossible!! Funny post...

  7. I'm over from Facebook.

    Thanks for sharing these-- I confess that EVERY. SINGLE. ITEM. you listed is also me. If I crank out 500 words a day, that's extremely productive for me. And I also work on one book at a time. I don't know how others do more than one---for me, it would mess up the voice.

    Looking forward to reading about your writing successes! Seems like it's just around the corner!!

  8. Oh gosh, a lot rings true but especially Number 4! I'm useless at it because I want to keep EDITING it.

    I think, Nick, all writers are different and we all should do what works for us and not tell anyone else what method they should use to get from a to b. I wrote a blog post fairly recently - something about there being no rules for writing. (By which I meant "The Process".)

    Lovely post. I like your style - clear and witty and always with a point. In fact, i'm going to show it to my workshoppees on Sunday when I'm doing an event on blogging/twitter etc for authors. So, make sure it's tidy on Sunday!

  9. Lovely, Nick. I'm afraid I do all those things you don't like... except I never post on FB or twitter how many words I've written. But I wouldn't say my way is better - it's just how I work. I think it would be really nice to work on only one book at a time. Unfortunately, I'd starve...

    As for the bed-time stories - I learned long ago that you are better off pretending you can't do it even if you can. Otherwise there is no end of aggro when they ask for the same story again and you've completely forgotten it.