22 February 2017

Children’s writing tips from author Catherine Johnson

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by Jack Hadley Guest Blog

We asked a few of our tutors to treat us to some thoughts on the writing life. Here Catherine Johnson (children’s and YA author, and tutor on our children’s writing coursesdelivers some words of wisdom alongside some essential children’s writing tips.

These days, writing tips are everywhere. We can Google them, find them on Twitter (thank you Matt Haig and Joanne Harris) and waste whole mornings looking up ways to kick-start or sustain us.

It’s a lonely job but also a massive privilege to sit around making stuff up in the hope that someone else, not related to you, will spend their time with us and maybe get a little bit swept away.

Perhaps in the future we will all have writing androids that will hold our hands, read through what we wrote the day before, and suggest useful ways forward. Oh, and make coffee and supply chocolate frogs.

Honestly if you’ve read any tips or hints you’ll know they are all roughly the same. (Really honestly they are but if I say them now you won’t waste your time reading the rest of this).

But what’s important for your writing is that you find the ones that work for you. The thing is most of this stuff is things you know. If you don’t you can find them out by reading books. Reading the sort of books you want to write. That is the best tip anyone can ever give you in your entire life.

Q. But what if I ‘pick up’ another writer’s voice?
A. So what? You’ll find your own the more you write.
Q. Or what if I get so downhearted because everything is so brilliant?
A. Hmm, this is a real possibility. I find reading something that is awful acts as a remedy. After all you can do better can’t you?

Honestly reading is important for any writer, but for one who wants to write for children it is vital. I am going to put that in capital letters. IT IS VITAL. You need to know what’s being written and read now. Right now.

And you will learn everything from other people.

So what else can you do?

When I began one of the most genuinely supportive and useful things to me was finding a group. I initially attended my local council run writing classes because they had a crèche (I know! But this was the last century) and just the act of going there every week and sharing stuff was so helpful.

Eventually I found my writing family and we’d meet up once a month (this was still pre internet). I must say since I’ve moved I still miss them all dreadfully now, but those links and supports are still sustaining.

Of course you might not be a joiner inner, but if you were I would go out and find your tribe now. Be prepared for it to take time – I spent a whole term at a writing class (for adults) which was mostly elderly men writing wish fulfilment stories about nymphs.

Then of course there’s the writing.

Everyone is different. And all of us have different ways of doing things, you might like planning, you might prefer the ride of a journey in which you’re not quite sure how you’re going to get our protagonists to the end.

It really doesn’t matter. You just have to try. Remember, the only way you learn to write a novel isn’t by reading the ‘how to’ books or buying some software, you learn by actually writing it.

So cut yourself some slack. Play with your story. Enjoy it. If you get stuck, go for a walk, a swim (my preferred activity): do something physical. If the worst comes to the worst, pretend you don’t care and start a different story.

Oh and the other tips?

Keep a notebook. But if you’re not the notebook type that’s fine too.

Write that thing down before you go to bed. You won’t remember in the morning.

Don’t use words you don’t need. Less is more. None of those ‘wow’ words or description that only describes. Make sure every thing matters.

And read everything. Luckily all your writing problems have been dealt with and solved by somebody else. See how they did it and then do it your way.

Happy writing x

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.

 

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