Monday, March 28, 2011

Mentor Monday: Where Are You?

For every career, there's a career path. When I started teaching, I really hadn't thought much about the path itself. I only knew I wanted to teach. Fresh out of college, I was armed with lots of theory, but had little in the way of actual practice (student teaching just gives you a glimpse into what's truly involved).

Once in the trenches, I realized just how little I knew about this path I'd chosen. Over the years, I learned (oh, how I learned!). Teaching is so much more than working with kids -- you have to deal with administration,  parents, politics, budgets, etc. If only it were just about teaching!

Same is true with a children's writing career. You may think you know how to write for kids (I mean, how hard can it be?!?!?!), but when you get right down to it, you discover you really know squat. 

It's important to recognize where you are on the path -- and to also recognize the waymarkers -- the signs that you're advancing . . . or not.

Over the course of the next several weeks (during my turn at blogging), we'll look at the different stages of a writing career. Today, it's the Novice category.

You know you're a Novice when:
  • You read picture books or middle grade novels or young adult novels and think writing for kids is a snap.
  • You have stories you want to tell, but haven't put them in writing yet.
  • Or, you have put them in writing, but haven't paid attention to things like voice or word count. Or perhaps you've told a story exactly as it happened.
  • In fact, you aren't even aware that you're supposed to be aware of the above.
  • You've started to read some how-to books like The Complete Idiot's Guide to Children's Publishing by Harold Underdown or Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.
  • If you aspire to write picture books, you write them in the style of picture books from your childhood.
  • You may enter your work in writing contests.
  • You perhaps believe you have to find your own illustrator if you are a picture book writer.
  • You may also think you have to pay someone to publish you (no lie,The Write Sisters have heard this many, many times). Seriously, publishers pay you! 
  • You think you're going to get rich writing for kids (ah, don't quit your day job just yet . . .)
  • You believe that any children's publishing house will take any of the children's genres.
  • In fact, you aren't aware there are different children's genres. You think writing for children is all about picture books (it just isn't so!)
  • You read your stories to family members and kids (your own, your friends', your child's classmates), and you believe them when they say it's great. It may be, but chances are good, they're responding to you.
  • You've started a rejection file, and don't realize this is a good thing (it means you're submitting!).
If you aspire to be a children's writer, these are just a few of the things you may experience at the novice level. We've all been there! The Write Sisters have each been writing for kids for twenty+ years. Among the seven of us, we have over 100 published books. We couldn't say that twenty years ago.

Every once in a while, we do a retrospective, individually and collectively. It's fun to see how much we've learned, how much more we've published, and how much fun we've had doing it.

You can, too!


Andy said...

Great post, Janet! I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Mur said...

Janet, you've hit on a great way to judge where one is at in this career. I want to remind readers of another thing that is a little different about being a writer. When we're starting out, we often hesitate to call ourselves writers because we have not yet published. But remember, a novice teacher is still a teacher. A novice nurse is still a nurse. A novice writer... Get it?

I'm Jet . . . said...

Right, Mur, but such an interesting and slippery slope.

I found that I didn't tell too many people when I was starting out. It became tiresome when a few well-meaning people made unfortunate comments -- especially when they'd ask when I was going to 'advance' to writing for adults.

I'm not sure how this happens, but it seems that children's writers are held in high regard and low regard all at the same time . . .

If people only knew what a complex, compelling, fascinating, challenging job it is!


Sally said...

Best response to that "when are you going to write an adult book" is, I believe, Jane Yolen's - "No one ever asks a pediatrician when she's going to start treating adult patients."

I'm Jet . . . said...

Love it, Sally!