June 14, 2016
On Thursday at 4:09pm, the delivery truck drives up with my Institute for Children’s Literature materials starting my long awaited path: how to write a children’s book. I’ll confess right now that new things thrill me. I’m not someone for whom the phrase “develop a habit” is appealing. It’s when the newness wears off that you see whether or not the rubber meets the road. So, in order to know if this course really works for me, you’ll have to stick with me until the end. It is more than likely that I will love the start, possibly even be slightly over-enthusiastic because, well as I’ve said, I love beginnings. Plus, I did my research. I knew ICL was going to be good and that’s why I signed up.
Back to the ICL materials. They arrive in a pristine box, heavier than I expected, and neatly taped up. My kids, who are eight and ten, rush to get the scissors to open it. They jump when I yell, “This is mine, guys! I’m opening it––so back off.” They huff for a bit and then go back to watching that underpants-wearing sponge who lives under the sea.
I place the box on the kitchen island and clean my kitchen, forcing myself to wait for my reward––otherwise my kitchen will probably never get clean––before sitting down to open this present I’ve given myself: learning to write for children.
I want it to be a special moment. I’ve waited seventeen years for this moment.
I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t tell you my heart pounds. I snip the tape with my good scissors––the ones I hide in the kitchen drawer. The ones for special jobs. There are more books in the box than I imagined there would be. Each one shows a part of the process for learning how to write for children. I take them out one by one. I lift Best of the Children’s Market to my nose and fan the pages, bringing the Witherle Memorial Library in Castine, Maine right back. With that small whiff of eau-de-book, I'm 10-years-old, the marble floor cooling me during the 98 degree dog days as I lie under the table, waiting for granddaddy to get my brother, Matthew, from tennis class.
Once the books are out on the counter, I realize my treasure. They aren’t just books, they are curated resources for how to write for children. Truly, the 2016 Book Markets for Children’s Writers alone stops me in my tracks until I had to turn the light on because the kitchen had grown dark and I had forgotten to get dinner on the table. It is like ICL knows what I need.
I jump when my cellphone rings, but when I see who it is I pick it up. “Hey,” my writing partner Alexandra says, “Are we meeting––”
“You’re not going to believe this!” I tell her. “Remember when I said I wanted to write for a children’s magazine? I just opened my box from ICL and there is a book titled 2016 Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers. I’m not kidding.”
The rest of the books are equally helpful for someone becoming a children’s book writer. That evening, I carry From Inspiration to Publication up to my room so I can read the first chapter. I get back up out of bed for a pencil so I can write in the margins of the book. Note to self: when becoming a real writer for children, set up your nightstand with pencils, highlighters, and a writing notebook. Writing in the margins is something many people eschew, but I live with my books. They become a part of me more personal than the clothes I choose. (And they fit me longer!) The words stay with me like my skin, surrounding me; they go where I go. As I scrawl my thoughts in the first chapter by Kristi Holl, I tap my snoring husband.
“Uh huh,” he says.
“Can we make me a writing space this weekend?”
It’s nice being married to a carpenter. I know it will actually happen. I dog-ear my book (yes, I do that too) and turn out my light. I sleep poorly. I can’t wait to start Assignment One. So when I check my clock for the fourth time that night and it reads 5:15am, I’m excited and not annoyed at all.
Down in the kitchen with French Roast in hand, I read the letter from my new instructor. He has an interesting background. I wonder whether or not it will feel like I know him as the course goes on. I’ve taken some online courses where it never felt like I knew my instructor which, as a teacher myself, is hard for me to manage. My relationships with my students are what help me make better teaching choices for them and engage them by involving their interests in the learning. I’ve been assigned to write a biography letter and I write it very carefully so I can share who I really am with him and why writing for children matters so much to me. I take the time to outline my writing life so it makes sense to him.
Once the letter is complete, I begin to read Chapter One in my ICL binder. I read through a few pages, see the visual writing prompts and choose an image that sparks an idea for me.
I begin to write. Despite the fact that I’ve waited seventeen years to take this course, procrastination is not usually a trait I own. I’m more impulsive––often deep into something before I consider its ramifications. I write the story, read it twice out loud, make some changes, and send it off to my new instructor. Then, because I must wait until he sends it back to me with his notes, I decide to complete reading that first chapter. It’s here I realize my first mistake. I was supposed to format it differently! I was supposed to read the chapter to the end.
This is very typical of me and the fact that I have done this with this course, kind of upsets me. I stop to think about why I’m upset.
* I really want this to work.
* I want to be a children’s book writer.
* I want to get published.
* Nothing I’ve done up until this point seems as important.
This mistake might seem pretty minor, but in fact, it could make the difference between getting a manuscript reviewed or not. The ICL “how to write a children’s book” course teaches you to be a children’s book writer who gets published. I see this right from the start. There is no part of writing for children that isn’t addressed.
The course is extremely practical. For the first time in my entire academic life, I’m taking a course that teaches me how to be a children’s book writer from how to write to how to live my life as a writer. This is different in so many ways from anything I’ve ever done before and it’s helping me see how other parts of my life might be improved.
I need to slow down and take the time to do it well. My Facebook header says that it’s better to be done than perfect, but sometimes––especially when we are learning––it’s better to do it right. So I slow myself down, stop berating myself, and read the rest of Chapter One carefully because I’m on Chapter One, people, and so there is still time to undo my bad habits. Then––I follow the instructions: I read the first chapter of From Inspiration to Publication again and go about setting up my life to be a children’s book writer.
By Saturday evening, my husband, Dick, who really is a carpenter by trade had already put up my beautiful new desk in our guest room.
This may seem simple, but having this space as my designated writing space propels me into feeling more like a children’s book writer. I begin to pull all of my books and pencils and notebooks from around the house and set them up on the shelves. I sharpen pencils and find a comfortable chair.
Then, I sit at my new writer’s desk and write for thirty minutes. It feels amazing. Learning how to write a children’s book is going to take some time, but this course is going to help me. I have to remind myself to follow the directions every single time. If I already knew what to do, I’d have done it. I need this course more than I want to admit.
Another great thing about the course is that it seems to anticipate my thinking. Just as I send in my first assignment, I wonder what to do. As I’ve explained, I take the time to read the end of chapter one and can’t believe my luck at finding kind of mini-assignments to do while waiting for your first assignment to return from your instructor. I feel like a real writer as I set up a calendar of writing goals throughout the week with assignments for each day. It feels so good to be able to say, “I’ve got an assignment to do today,” to my family and know I’m not faking it. I’ve also been setting up a plan for a vision board.
I want to think about how to give myself new ideas and how to keep those ideas available for when I’m working. In my next post, I’ll be sure to share what I come up with. Thanks for coming along on my journey as I learn how to write books for children. I hope it will help you think about your journey as well!
Kimberley Moran's site
Kimberley Moran is a gifted and talented teacher and freelance writer who lives in Hampden, Maine. She has two children and one very nice husband. Kimberley would like her bio to make her sound brilliant, witty, and kind because she knows that when you write and read you get to be anyone you want to be.