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Write What You Love

by Robyn Opie Parnell

I recently answered a question from a student on my writing for children course. I’d like to share my advice to her because I think it’s important to all writers.

My student told me that she’d wanted to write a story for a long time. She gave me a brief outline of it, which sounded good.

Her question had to do with her writing experience – or lack of it. So far, she’s written a handful of short, simple stories for children up to eight. She wanted to know if, as a novice, she was out of her depth writing a longer novel for older children on a difficult subject. She wondered if she should forget the idea for the time being and try something less challenging.

There’s only one way to find out, I told her – by writing it.

I was encouraged by my student’s enthusiasm and passion. She wanted to write the story. That was obvious. Therefore, I think she should do it.

As I explained in my response to this student, I believe that passion is most important to a writer, of any genre. I believe that you have to feel passionate about a story to write it.

Writing is hard work. It takes time, dedication and commitment. It means sacrifices. It’s also a lot of fun, if you’re passionate about it.

I write for my own pleasure. I write because I love writing for children. I love doing it more than anything else. I write a children’s book because I want to – have to. I feel passionate about it. I write for my own fun first. Getting it published is a bonus.

I believe that, if I write something for my own enjoyment, then others will enjoy it too. If I laugh, others will laugh too. If I cry, others will cry too.

Not all of my manuscripts are published. Some are rejected. But writing for me in the first instance seems to work most of the time.

I recommended to my student to write her story, do the best job she can with limited experience and have fun.

There are no guarantees that her story will be published. There are simply no guarantees in life. But she’ll have fun writing it and she’ll also gain valuable experience in writing for children.

If you want to be a writer you have to write. The more you write, the better you get. Every story is valuable experience.

Let’s consider the following scenario: you’ve written a story and made many attempts to get it published. Some say that J K Rowling’s first Harry Potter story was rejected about 30 times. If you’ve received 30 rejections for your manuscript then it’s probably time to think about rewriting it. Is there anything you can do to improve it? Or maybe it’s time to call the story a step in your writing career – good practice – and move on. We all need experience. It makes us better at what we do.

I often say that persistence is a key to success. You haven’t given up. You’re still trying. Obviously, you’re in with a chance. The practice of continuing to write improves your skills. And passion keeps you going.

Thousands of stories have been written. Many of these books have the same basic idea. They are different because different personalities wrote them.

The Quest? I can’t imagine how many books contain this underlying theme. Boy meets girl? The number is even greater here, I’m sure. Catching a serial killer? I think you get the point.

Everything has been done. Every idea has been used. Your job as a writer is to make your idea seem new and fresh. You do this with passion. The way you tell the story. Your excitement. Your connection with the characters. You!

Last year, I wrote a story based on a true historical event which intrigued me. To get into the mood – inspire my passion – I read books about the time, place and incident. It wasn’t long before I was so excited that I had to start writing. I couldn’t help it. My research also gave me the plot, as if handed to me on a platter. As I read about the real people and the period, individual words inspired my imagination. Soon, ideas were swirling around in my mind, forming a story.

There are plenty of things you can do to inspire passion when writing for children:

  • Read books on a particular subject, time or location. Look for facts that excite you. Think about them and their possibilities.

  • Read the latest children’s books. This relaxing activity is work for a children’s author. You’re learning about the market, getting your brain used to thinking about children’s stories and plots, and stirring the imagination.

  • Read books on writing for children. Immerse yourself in the subject. You’ll gain valuable knowledge and skills. You’ll also get your brain used to thinking about children’s books and how to write them.

  • Take courses and learn everything you can about writing for children. Learning more about a favourite subject (and doing homework) is great inspiration and motivation.

  • Join writers’ groups and find other people interested in writing children’s books. Make friends with these writers and talk often, in person, on the phone or via email.

  • Act like a writer. People often say that if you want something then pretend that it’s already happened. It’s a form of visualisation. So pretend that you’re a professional writer and act accordingly.

You need the skills of a writer and experience goes a long way, as it does in any profession. But don’t forget passion. Don’t under-estimate it.

Copyright Robyn Opie Parnell. All Rights Reserved.

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