This started out as my November newsletter, but election news distracted me. Then it was my December newsletter, but holidays distracted me, and so here we are, not only in a new month but in a new year. The new year often inspires people to start over or make changes. In my case, it’s a matter of re-affirming my writing goals.
Over these last several months, I have felt like I’m on the verge of understanding some pretty big concepts with regard to structure, character, setting and the like … even if I have a sneaking feeling that these are lessons I’ll have to return to over and over again.
Until I started writing for kids, the writing I did was strictly informational. It was all short format; a brief profile about an interesting person, a project or discovery. Although I’m still writing non-fiction, it is entirely different. The audience has changed and, instead of 500-1,000 words, we’re talking book length. I need narrative arc: there is a character, there is a problem or a conflict and what happens to resolve that problem?
You would think all that was basic and obvious, but I notice that lately I’ve fallen back into my profile-writing pattern. That means, “I will write about this person because they’ve done some interesting things and isn’t that cool?” These are things young readers should know about and I’m going to tell them. But written that way, even if the verbs are lively and the sentence structure is sound, will not engage an editor or agent, much less a young reader.
Even in non-fiction, especially in non-fiction, I’ve got to make the problem, the conflict, clear. I’ve got to make the steps and the challenges to fixing that problem clear and engaging to the reader. Otherwise, there’s a big fat
sitting in the middle of the page. I heard someone refer to it as “a way in for the young reader,” and that has helped me visualize my goal.
Why is this important?
Because I can tell you all about this interesting person and the things she did, but if you aren’t interested in the kinds of things she did, why should you read it? Because she’s got a problem. Spelled out explicitly. Once you see a character with a specific, concrete problem, that can go a long way toward engaging you as a reader and make you care about the character. I believe that the more I can keep this concept front and center in my mind, the better my writing will be. Stay tuned and we’ll see if I’m right!
Another thing I’ve re-realized these past months is that writing is a lonely pursuit. You work hard on your craft and you have visions of publication, but the way is hard and often the door/path is blocked. The gatekeepers are a tough crowd.
While you can’t control those gatekeepers, you can make writing less lonely by enlarging your writing community. I take so much pride and comfort that, among my fellow Illinois kidlit (SCBWI) writers, we all help one another publicize each other’s books and encourage one another’s efforts. Your community sustains you, no matter whether the gatekeepers say yay or nay.
So, find your community, no matter your pursuits — writing or otherwise. Sustain others as they sustain you. Re-commit yourself to those pursuits you care most about. Know that you will fall down, or fall off your horse, or whatever.
Get. Back. Up.