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Being Open to Surprises (Don’t Slam the Door on Possibility)

ICL-Quote-1-28Many of us begin our writing journey with a firm vision for exactly what we want to write or what we’ll be able to write. We have goals connected to that idea. And goals are good, as long as they keep us moving forward and don’t keep us boxed in until we’re not able to see and respond to opportunity.

I know when I moved from writing for adults to writing for children, I thought the journey basically had three options (for me): write for kids’ magazines, write picture books, eventually write children’s novels. So I began working with that as three stepping stones in a journey. In reality, I had an incredibly limited vision for what is available in children’s literature and an equally limited view of what my own options were.

As a result, I passed up a few opportunities that popped up along the way. I was asked to write a nonfiction book for older kids and I shied away from the idea. I didn’t know much about the subject. I hadn’t thought about writing for older kids. It wasn’t in my 1-2-3 journey plan. But it was an opportunity, and one I passed up because my plan was too limited and too limiting.

When a few more “would you like to” opportunities came along, they eventually seeped into my rather thick-headed mindset and I started saying, “Yes.” One of my first “yes” answers was to the idea of adapting classic literature for younger children. It sounded hard and a little scary, but I loved many classic books and I was tired of saying “No” and I was beginning to feel restricted by the path I was on. So I stepped off the path.


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You remember how Little Red Riding Hood was told never to step off the path? Well, if she hadn’t, we’d have no story to tell. When I stepped off my pre-determined path, I had some challenges but I also discovered more and more and more opportunities bursting open all around me.

I haven’t been a ripping success at every challenge I’ve taken up. Some of them, well, I’m not exactly impressed by what I ultimately produced. Sometimes, I felt like I failed. And once I even had to admit I couldn’t do what they wanted even after I tried very hard. Failure is always an option. But it’s an option whether you stay in the limiting little box or venture off the path. Failure is part of life and learning and though it stings, it’s actually survivable. 

My writing journey had turned out to be very different from the 1-2-3 path I thought was “the way” one became a children’s writer. But I’ve had so much fun, and now I make a living from my writing.

So when you see a market opportunity or a submissions call that seems outside the path you thought you ought to be on, don’t dismiss it out of hand. Don’t pass over something because it sounds challenging. Don’t pass over something because it seems a little scary. Frankly, it will be scary. But it will keep your writing journey interesting and those detours…that’s where the best stories are.


If you want more writing instruction like this, plus lots of tips and great resources, click here!


With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.

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