September 27, 2016
“Why take a writing course? You already know how to write,” people ask me. They say luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Well, this course with the Institute of Children's Literature is the equivalent of luck for me: it’s both preparation and opportunity.
“I need more. I need to understand how it all comes together,” I reply. “I need focus and I’m certainly not writing with intention because I’m not even sure about my plan.”
I want to be a published writer and I don’t want to only hope it happens. This is one of the biggest goals in my life, so I won’t leave things to chance.
The six books that come with this course pave a path that virtually guarantees my success. Anyone can buy these books and read them, but it’s the combination of these pieces with the course that makes it all work so well, but that’s not the only value (and again, this is my unsolicited opinion).
I’ve found it also seems to be the order in which each resource is introduced. Each assignment requires me to use one or more of the ICL books. It feels seamless. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that the course feels like the I Ching––a sacred Chinese book where the answer to any question lies in the page you happen upon. In the coming weeks, my blog posts will be about what each book contains and why it’s critical to guaranteed writing success.
I know many people think writers are born. You’ve heard that or even thought it, haven’t you? The truth is that people can be geniuses and they may have talent, but writing is a learned skill. Understanding what makes sentences work better, how to craft characters, and how to use precise words must be learned. Just as everyone comes into the world without the knowledge of language and must be taught to speak, so it is with the written word. The books in this course foster this writing knowledge and are designed to be read, marked up, and used actively. I read certain text for one assignment and then re-read the same words a few assignments later and look at it from a different perspective.
After writing a story for Assignment One, the ICL text asks me to read the introduction and first chapter of From Inspiration to Publication, so I’ll start by sharing what ICL says about this book.
"This book is subtitled How to Succeed as a Children’s Writer: Advice from 15 Award-Winning Authors. This is a unique guide to writing for young readers, developed especially for our students. In it, distinguished children’s authors––many with editing experience as well––share with you the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of producing publishable stories, articles, and books for the juvenile market."
When I read From Inspiration to Publication, I feel like I’m reading personal letters from writers. It’s interesting and kind of amazing to me that writers have so many feelings in common. I know there are a million people out there from every walk of life wanting to write for children, but somehow all these different people are wondering the same things: how to schedule writing time and feel good about calling ourselves writers.
The chapters cover topics every children’s book writer must consider. The titles make figuring out what I need to find and know simple. There is one called Becoming a Writer, another that asks How Old is Your Reader? and there’s even a whole chapter on Hunting Down the Facts. Whenever I feel confused or anxious about why I think I can be a writer, I stop and find a chapter to help ease my anxiety.
Mentor texts are any text that can be used as an example of good writing for writers. Writers use a mentor text to inform their own writing. Using a mentor text is not cheating!
So, if it’s article or story writing guidance I need, the next fantastic resource is Best of Children’s Market: A Collection of Over 80 Articles and Stories Published by Leading Children’s Magazines. This book has a perfect example of any type of article or story you might want to write. The book is to be used as a mentor text.
Many people who find out that I often use published articles to get myself comfortable with the kind of article or story I am writing tell me they think it sounds like cheating or plagiarism. Not so! Many working writers who want to write for magazines or newspapers, take the time to find text that has been published by the source they are hoping to submit to, that is similar in style (and sometimes even content) to the piece they are writing. Then, they deconstruct the published piece––analyzing word choice, sentence length, paragraph construction, and tone––in order to understand what that publisher is looking for. This is smart thinking. The piece has already been published, so you know what is successful.
In Best of Children’s Market, the contents are divided by three categories––youngest readers, intermediate readers, and teen readers. Those categories are further divided into fiction and nonfiction. Each section has more than 15 articles or stories designed to show you many types of texts that have been successful. This resource is assigned so often, my book is like an old friend. I know the stories and have deconstructed many of them to see how their story arc works, how the characters were developed, and why they were successfully published. At the end of each piece the magazine, age group, and word count is stated followed by a blurb from the author. The blurb explains the author’s path to getting the article published. It gives me a personal look at the author as a person––just like me––who was successful at publishing. I love to read these author stories and recognize myself in each of them.
In my daily practice of working on assignments, I often warm up my brain by choosing one story which is similar to the piece I’m working on in some way. Then I read it and consider what I could do to revise my current piece to make it more publishable. In this way, I’ve begun to make it a habit to research magazines I am trying to get published in for articles that might give me insight into what they look for and accept.
Using these two resources has changed me from a free writing kind of a gal to a working writer who understands that writing is a business as well. If my goal is to be published, I must do what it takes to craft the kind of articles and stories that get published. I can see a huge difference in the way I approach my writing now compared to when I began the course just 16 weeks ago. I am much more skilled at revising my own work and writing with specific intentions. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a change in myself and I am certain it is because of the course and its resources.
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.