Afraid to try your hand at writing a new genre for children? I was. I’ve been writing books and magazine stories for children ages 4 to 8 for years. It’s been a comfortable place to be as a writer. Then it happened. About two years ago I read several books from a series of first chapter books that shook me out of my comfort zone. They were simply written, with a few black and white illustrations, but these books were EXCITING! There were cliffhangers at the end of chapters, and a reason to turn every page.
I now had a NEW GOAL as a writer—a burning desire to learn how to write first chapter books. But I lacked confidence. Had I found a unique angle? What would make my historical fiction stand out? Was my story idea dumb? Would kids like the characters? Was the dialog natural and believable? Was it action packed? So many questions. So much to read and learn before putting pen to paper! This was going to take time.
I went back to the books in my personal library and poured over the chapters dealing with writing for this genre. I studied articles in The Children’s Writer, The Children’s Book Insider, and the SCBWI Bulletin. I frequented bookstores and read stacks of first chapter books. I ordered used books from amazon.com (cheap!) The selection was dizzying, and the on-line market research was intense!
I asked my good friend, Lauren Harris, a teacher, writer, and school curriculum adviser to be a co-author. She is one of the most creative people I know. Our GOAL was to learn to write this first chapter book together. I’ll never forget Lauren’s challenge to the both of us. It came through this inspiring quote from T.S. Eliot:
“Only those who will risk going too far
can possibly find out how far one can go.”
Wow! It grabbed me. I posted that quote on my bulletin board as a reminder that I was definitely a risk taker (and don’t you ever forget it! I said to myself.)
I was a risk taker when I submitted my first magazine story over 15 years ago. At that time I had nothing, nada, zilch, to put on a publishing resume related to writing for children. I simply had non-stop story ideas, and I had read 14 books on writing for children. I had no idea if the editor would like my manuscript—-or fall out of her chair laughing, and call her staff into her office saying “Hey, everyone! Get in here. You’ve got to read the dumbest unsolicited manuscript I’ve ever seen!”
I was a risk taker when I literally wrote my first picture book from bed while ill and in constant pain—all the while praying that my pain wouldn’t show through my writing. It didn’t because of God’s grace. That book was picked up by a large Christian publishing house. A second picture book followed with the same publisher three years later.
Nancy Sanders and I were risk takers when we presented book proposals to Scholastic Professional Books, with the promise that we could write something for grades K – 2 that hadn’t been done before for that age. Making a promise is taking a definite risk! We did it! Then we wrote six more, one right after another. Whew!
So, Lauren and I set our sights on a new goal and became risk takers. What an adventure! We studied, wrote, and revised. We’re still studying, writing, and revising, and we’re loving it! The book is going well and an editor wants to hang onto it for a while to give it “further consideration.” It may not be accepted but at least we know that our book is good enough for “further consideration.”
As writers, we risk having an editor reject our work every time we send out another manuscript. Rejection after rejection doesn’t stop us. Just say “Ha! I eat rejections for breakfast,” and keep going! With risk comes failure, but also success!
If your words are in print, it’s because you set your sights
on a goal, and you are a risk taker.
Go ahead. Pursue that new goal and take the risk of “going too far.” See what you are capable of doing by the grace of God. You never know where that risk will take you—perhaps out of your comfort zone.
Copyright 2008 Sheryl Ann Crawford