Writing for children can’t be that hard. Right? Wrong. @zbsdaddy

I loved the holidays as a kid, but even more so, I loved the holiday characters that came along with the special day. My favorite was the Easter Bunny. That rabbit had it the toughest in my mind. I mean, Santa Claus did amazing things, but let’s face it. He had a magical sled pulled by magical reindeer to help get the job done.

And it wasn’t like he delivered to every child; he had his naughty and nice list after all. All that poor rabbit had were two, small feet and the burden of carrying around many eggs on his tiny back. Oh, the horror. I imagined over and over again the Easter Bunny barely hopping his way through the day, blisters on his paws, sweating profusely, and a becoming increasing dehydrated and tired.

I was convinced he had to have help. A family of rabbits ready to take over when exhaustion set in. In my mind, that was the only way it could get done. There wasn’t so much a single Easter Bunny as there was a family of bunnies whose sole job it was to deliver eggs. But what if one member of the family couldn’t do it? What if he or she was born with a bad paw or couldn’t hop as fast or carry as many eggs as the others? There had to be one such rabbit. Every family had their less fortunate member, the so called “black sheep”. This family couldn’t be different.

With that final thought, I had my first story. I was twelve.

It took me two days to write a story about a rabbit named Jumpers (I know, not the most original name) and how he was born with one foot shorter than the other. His family, which I’d conveniently named The Cottontails, kept ignoring him every year. Until they all got sick.

The head of the family, Peter, didn’t want his nephew Jumpers to take over, for fear he would fail. But in the end, Jumpers prevailed. Not only did all the eggs get delivered, but Jumpers became the best Easter Bunny ever.

I had my first story. I was twelve.

Every time I get down on myself and my writing pursuits, I pull out that manuscript. It still brings a smile to my face, but that story also brought hardship along with it. By age 18, I knew I wanted to be a career-writer, but all the stories I came up with were stories about kids doing kid stuff and facing kid problems.

I was an adult; surely I should advance to writing for adults? I needed to craft a good murder mystery or suspense novel. That was what all my friends and family were telling me. If I wanted to be a writer, then I needed to write what others read. Period. End of story.

So I did. I forced myself to start writing for adults. For two years, that was all I did. I wrote a total of four novels in that timeframe, and to be honest, they were pretty easy to write. I had the stories in my head. I just wrote what I thought. ‘Just do it’ was my motto (sorry Nike). I gave each to friends and family and got glowing results back. I sent them out to agents and got rejection after rejection. I couldn’t understand how something that everyone seemed to like, kept getting turned down. It was the system for sure. It couldn’t be the writing. It was amazing in my eyes. I went to critique groups and conference all designed to help me crack into the business all to no avail. I was frustrated beyond belief.

If I wanted to be a writer, then I needed to write what others read. Period. End of story.

Then came one week–post 9/11. I had just finished my latest creation and was proud of the words on the page. I gave it to a member of my then critique group to read. This person was lucky enough, or perhaps unlucky, to have read some of my books that I wrote for kids.

He liked the new project, but made a startling comment. “You need to write for kids all the time.”

We argued back and forth for months about this. I was determined to not listen; he was determined to make me. My argument: writing for kids is easy. Garbage in, garbage out. They will read anything. Adults are picky; they know what is good and what isn’t. You have to craft a good story to make them keep reading. Good characterization is a must.

I finally gave in to his argument and attended another writing group that he belonged to. This group, although not officially part of SCBWI, did have childrens’ writers in their fold. There was a child there. His name was Andrew. He was eight and was the son of one of the members. What I remember most, besides all the gas he farted out that night, was how he listened so closely do everything each member read and even gave comments.

He liked the new project, but made a startling comment. “You need to write for kids all the time.”

During a break I sat with him and told him about my stories. In particular, read my Easter Bunny story. I was sure he would love it. He didn’t. In fact, he went on for twenty minutes telling me everything he didn’t like about it. It was at that moment that I realized maybe I had it wrong. I went home that night and reworked that story taking every comment he said to heart.

The next meeting, I gave him the new manuscript ready for him to sing my praises. He didn’t. Far from it in fact. It took me six rewrites to finally get a story he liked. He. Was. Tough.

But once I did, it was well-worth the effort. He told his friends, and those friends told other friends. Before long, my little Easter book had a cult following. In the end, Andrew changed my thinking. I’m forever grateful. I learned that night, that while adults do care about the things I mentioned above, children care just as much, if not more. You simply can’t give them garbage to read.

Plot flow, characterization, action, dialogue, it all matters. They are smart readers from a very early age. From picture books to YA and all the subsections within each, they all must be written and tailored to a specific audience.

Children have a wealth of reading material to choose from these days. It is a wonderful time to be a child. But we writers have a great deal of pressure on our hands. We have to write books they will want to read. Granted some children are less fickle than others, but the one thing they all have in common is that the material they absorb will shape their individual minds.

I learned that night, that while adults do care about the things I mentioned above, children care just as much, if not more. You simply can’t give them garbage to read.

Yes, it can be a burden if we let it, but I prefer to think of it now as a gift. They are allowing us to enter their worlds if only for a few moments. Therefore, we need to craft stories that will touch the far corners of those minds and inspire them to reach for the stars.

https://www.facebook.com/thomas.wright.353
http://www.thomaswrightbooks.com

Thomas Wright is a writer of middle grade and young adult novels. His first book Ansburry Tales: The Redeemer was published in 2013. Book two of this five-part series is scheduled for release in 2016. Other completed projects include a YA novel, Catching Tomorrow due out in 2017, and a middle grade series entitled, The Adventures of Spikehead and Fred, with book one slated for publication in 2017.  He currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wonderful family and far too many dogs.

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