When I teach classes on writing for children, I tell my students there are only three necessary traits for being a writer. They raise their pens, ready to record the insider tricks I’m about to share that will pave their road to publication. Unfortunately, there are no magic incantations or secret handshakes to initiate you into the world of writers. All you need are three things:
- a modicum of talent;
- a willingness to learn and improve your craft;
- and perseverance.
When I say “modicum of talent,” I mean exactly that. You don’t need to be the next Maya Angelou or Ernest Hemingway. You do, though, need a little something. As a child, were you the one who enthralled your classmates on the playground with your stories? Did you write love poems or protest songs? Do you make up fairy tales for your children every night? Are you a journal writer or blogger? Do people turn to you when they need someone to write up an account about an event? Did you answer “yes” to any of these questions? Excellent. You obviously have a “modicum of talent.” You’re a writer.
But that’s only the first step. You need to be willing to learn and improve your craft. I’ve met too many people who, once they’ve gotten an agent or that first book contract, feel that they are now a “Writer,” with a capital W. They think that now they’ve made it up the first rung of success, there’s nothing else for them to learn about writing. They couldn’t be more wrong. No, you don’t need to go out and earn an MFA in Writing for Children or a PhD in Children’s Literature (not that those are bad things), but you can always learn more about writing. Attend conferences and take workshops. Read craft books and blog posts. Have your manuscripts critiqued and return the favor for other writers. But the most important way to improve your craft is to read mindfully in your genre. Read. Read. Read. Analyze the books you read. What works and what doesn’t work? Learn new techniques from the positive and learn what to avoid from the negative. Read!
The last, and most important writerly trait, is perseverance. Becoming a professional writer is not the easiest of career goals. It takes a long time to hone your craft to the needed level. Along the way, you’ll encounter many barriers. I knew most of my published writer friends long before they had their first book contract. They kept writing in spite of the many rejections they received along the way. To state the obvious, if you stop writing, you’ll never be published.
When I was in high school we had to choose a class motto. (Stay with me. This is related.) The administration thought our choice wasn’t appropriate and cleaned it up to “Always Persevere,” translated into Latin as “Semper Perservere.” I prefer our motto in its original form, though. Here it is as my final piece of advice:
Keep on Truckin’!
Laurie Wallmark writes exclusively for children. She can’t imagine having to restrict herself to only one type of book, so she writes picture books, middle-grade novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing or studying, Laurie teaches computer science at a local community college, both on campus and to students in prison. The picture book biography, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, October 2015), is Laurie’s first book.
- Website: http://www.lauriewallmark.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauriewallmarkauthor
- Twitter: @lauriewallmark
Laurie is giving away a copy of her debut picture book, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE.
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Good luck, everyone!