Friday, July 17, 2009

Writing and Carnegie Hall

One of the first books I read on writing for children was Jean Karl's How to Write and Sell Children's Picture Books. One of Jean's quotes from her introduction has stuck with me all these years. I wrote it on a 3 X 5 card as I began my writing journey. It encouraged me to press on, to study hard, and to practice, practice, practice!

It's a quote I occasionally recite when a new writer quickly becomes discouraged because his or her book or magazine story wasn't accepted after having studied and practiced for only a few weeks or months! Here's the quote:

"You wouldn't expect to pick up a violin, never having played one, and appear the next day at Carnegie Hall as a soloist. Writing is not so different. It takes practice and learning. But unlike the violin, it is something you can teach yourself, with a few guides along the way---"
Jean Karl

To me, that quote puts the difficult but wonderfully rewarding work of writing for children in perspective. I especially appreciate the last line, "--it is something you can teach yourself, with a few guides along the way---."

So, for those who can't yet "play the violin"--- keep learning and practicing because there is HOPE!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Try Writing for a Children's Writer Contest!

Do you subscribe to the Children's Writer? If so, you may want to enter their Folktale or Fantasy contest. It's FREE for current subscribers. If you don't currently subscribe there is a $13 entry fee which INCLUDES an 8-month subscription! Not bad. Personally think every children's writer needs to subscribe to this up-to-date, informative newsletter. I LOVE this publication!

Here are the contest details:

A folktale, legend, fairy tale, or other fantasy story for early readers ages 7, to 500 words. Stories should be written at the appropriate age level so a child can read them independently. Entries will be judged on creativity, voice, and writing style. Include sources if the story is a retelling.

Entries for this contest (there are two more-see below!) must be received by October 31, 2009. Winners will be announced in the March 2010 issue. Prizes: $500 for first place plus publication in Children’s Writer; $250 for second place; and $100 for third, fourth, and fifth places.

Go to and click on Writing Contests. There are two more contests left for 2009 you may want to consider

1) An article on a science topic for age 11, to 750 words.

2) Historical fiction for young teens age 13, to 1,500 words.

Don't forget to print out their entry form!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Writing for Children: Is Your Dialogue Counterfeit or the Real Thing?

I’ve learned more about dialogue by listening to the members of our critique group read their manuscripts and comment on mine, than I have from any how-to book, hands down! Books are necessary but (News Flash!) they can’t interact with you!

We have of eight pairs of listening and discerning ears in Wordsmiths. As we read our manuscripts aloud, each God-given and uniquely creative brain processes the information in a different way.

Every member has her own distinct insight on what is read.

They may agree on the overall status of a manuscript, and yet one or two members may add something else to the mix that’s entirely different. I soak in each persons dialogue style as I listen to these writers read their own work. This soaking, learning process has helped me critique my own dialogue for my early chapter book.

After each meeting, I come away having learned something about my dialogue—that little thing that can make or break your book!

Most of us know that people are trained to recognize counterfeit currency by touching the REAL thing hundreds of times. They do not concentrate on the counterfeit. They concentrate on the real thing so many times, it becomes easy to recognize the stuff that’s fake.

To me, writing dialogue is much like that. How do we recognize the real, natural, believable dialogue in our own writing vs dialogue that sounds contrived and fake? By hearing the REAL THING in a great critique group---and by READING the REAL THING in books over and over again. We soak in GOOD dialogue until we're saturated with great examples.

As with counterfeit money, before long you will notice that

unrealistic, unbelievable, "FAKE" dialogue

becomes easier to identify.

If you’re struggling with writing dialogue, try to join or form a great critique group, then dialogue about your dialogue! It will help you learn to identify the real, the believable, and the natural in your own writing.

c 2009, Sheryl Ann Crawford