Like many journalists, I dream of writing fiction. I have notebooks filled with ideas, dialogue and even entire stories waiting to be turned into something for public consumption. I have an almost finished police drama that I have been “editing” for a decade and a completed children’s book that came to me after an incident with my son that are both languishing on my computer.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy what I do, but after a dozen or so years of being stifled while I pursued “real” (aka paying) work, my creative side is crying out to be set free.
Well, I finally did something about it. Last weekend, I attended a full-day conference called “Packaging Your Imagination,” held by the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers. It was a real eye opener. Hundreds of people – some published, some not — gathered to attend three of 12 workshops and a phenomenal keynote address by Kenneth Oppel to gain insight into the children’s book business.
When my husband asked me later that evening how it went, my response was simple: “I feel inspired.”
While Cary Fagan explained where his ideas came from, I found myself delving into my past and scribbling funny and hopefully universal incidents into my notebook. As Paulette Bourgeois spoke about the three-act process of scriptwriting and how it can be applied to children’s books, I started analyzing my own picture book. And during the panel discussion that centred a great deal on how to get published, I realized it’s not much different from pitching freelance articles, something I’ve been doing my entire career.
For anyone contemplating a go at writing children’s books, here are just some of the major points distilled from the day:
- Read, read, read the type of books you want to write.
- Always carry something to write in. You never know where inspiration may strike.
- Take a writing workshop or course and meet with a writer’s group for honest feedback.
- Similarly, read your work aloud to children and watch if and where their attention wanders.
- Find a dramatic way to explore a feeling.
- Make sure your story has a beginning, middle and end, with twist and turns, conflicts and resolutions.
- Don’t send your story until it’s as polished as possible. Editors are looking for a reason to say no.
I can go on and on about what I learned in that one day. But I think the most important lesson is one we’ve all been told as children and what we repeat to our own kids: You can do anything you set your mind to.