Packaging Your Imagination

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.

I sat in on workshops led by Cary Fagan and Paulette Bourgeois of Franklin fame, as well as an “Ask the Pros” panel featuring agent Marie Campbell, editor Peter Carver and writer Sharon Jennings.

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.

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