Ten Ways Kid Writers Are Just Like Grownup Writers by Julie Falatko
When I talk to students about how I write, I can see they’re skeptical. They have trouble believing that I struggle with the same things they do.
In most ways, adults and children approach writing the exact same way. The biggest difference between writing from a student standpoint and from a grownup standpoint is time. Grownup writers have the time to revise a story twenty times or to play around with story ideas. In exchange we give up recess and algebra.
And so, here are ten things real grownup writers do that students can do too. Kids! Listen up! As soon as you do any one of these things, guess what? You are a writer! I mean it. It’s true.
- Writers revise. A lot. Writing is revising, and I am so grateful for it. If I had to get it right the first time, I couldn’t be a writer. The first drafts are when I figure out where I’m going, like drawing a map, and it’s only in later drafts that I can make the map clear to anyone who isn’t me.
- Writers read. A lot. Writers read to collect words, to see what sentences make their heart sing, make them laugh, make them snap the book shut in anger. Writers need to have opinions about writing, and about what they like. Do your favorite stories have talking animals? Nail-biting suspense? Beautiful descriptions of mountains and lakes? It’s good to know what you like, and why. Otherwise it’s like you’re a baker who has never tasted a cookie, and holds up the stick of butter, tilts her head at it questioningly, and thinks, “I wonder what this is for.”
- There is no one way to write. Some writers write fast, some write slowly. Some write with pencils, some on the computer, some construct it all in their heads and write it later. Just because the person sitting next to you is writing one way, doesn’t mean you have to.
- Writers come at inspiration from all angles. It’s ok if you don’t like story starters or writing sprints or outlining, and it’s great if you love them. Where one writer finds great inspiration, for someone else it’s like a big metal door slamming shut. You need to test all the roads to writing to see what works for you. You might write something surprising.
- Everyone has a bitter inner critic. You know what I mean. It’s that nasty voice in your head that breathes sarcastically out its nose when you’re trying to poetically describe cheese. And, if you keep going, it says, “a poetic sentence about CHEESE? Really? Who do you think you are?” You know who you think you are. You think you are a writer. If you have this annoying inner critic, then you are a writer. The part that makes you keep being a writer is when you ignore the critic. Go ahead. That guy doesn’t know anything. Just keep writing. If you decide next week that your cheese poem was a bad idea, make sure it’s you who is deciding, not that jerk in your head. The most powerful thing you can do is keep writing, even when the voice in your head tells you to stop.
- Writers let trusted friends read their work. At a certain point you will have stared at your story so long that you’re not sure if it even has verbs. That’s when someone else needs to read it. You will hope they’ll say, “This is brilliant and perfect!” because then your work is done. But they won’t say that. Listen to what they say. Pay attention when they say they didn’t understand something, or that the pacing feels wrong, or that your main character seems a little dull. If the person reading your story says something mean, you have my permission to say, “Thank you for your time” and find a new reader.
- It’s ok if some of your writing is truly awful. Not only is it ok, it’s good. You’re getting words on the page, and those are your words. Write it all down, let it sit one day or six weeks, then come back and make those words better.
- Write your story. You have a story to tell, and it’s important. It might be a true story or it might not, it might be funny or sad, but more than anything, it’s yours. Don’t let anyone tell you that your story isn’t good enough, because if it’s truly yours, from your heart, then it’s the most important story you’ll write. Write what you are meant to write, and it will always be worth reading.
- Writing isn’t a talent you’re born with, it’s a skill you practice. This is true for every writer. No one sits down and magically starts writing amazing stories. The only reason some grownup writers are better than fourth graders is because they have been practicing longer.
- Writers need recess, too. You can’t write a story by just staring at a blank page. Sometimes you have to write one sentence and then go outside and play a little so the rest of the story, which was probably waiting outside, can find you and land in your head.
The most important thing to remember is that writing is fun. Sometimes it seems like drudgery, but you are taking a scene from your head and putting it into my head, and that is super cool. I can’t wait to see what you shove into my brain. It’s going to be awesome.
Sometimes when Julie Falatko can’t sleep at night, she lies there thinking up topics for Nerdy Book Club posts. Her debut picture book, Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book), illustrated by Tim Miller, will be published by Viking Children’s Books on February 2, 2016. She is also the author of The Society for Underrepresented Animals, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Viking Children’s Books, 2017) and Help Wanted: One Rooster (Viking Children’s Books, 2018). You can find her at juliefalatko.com and on Twitter @JulieFalatko.