So you want to be a writer?
The good news--and the bad news--is that there is no right way to write.
This should not be surprising when you consider there isn't any one thing that everybody agrees on.
How do you feel about this year's Newbery winner?
Did you agree with the latest Oscar announcement of the best movie of the year?
What do you think of the current People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive"?
Which Baskin-Robbins flavor is your favorite?
So if we can't even agree which is the best end result, how are we ever going to agree what's the best way to get there? Ask a dozen writers how they write, and you're sure to get at least a dozen answers.
With that in mind, these are my thoughts--what works for me. (Sometimes.)
Even though most of my books are fantasies, many of my stories start with something that really happened. A writer's best tool is the question "What if?" What if a dog could talk? What if a teacher was as bad as a kid's worst nightmare--what if, in fact, she wasn't even human? What if there was a place you could go to on the Internet that sold magic spells you could put on your classmates?
I wrote my first book (A Hidden Magic) the year my daughter was born; I was 28 at the time. Ever since I was very young, I was always telling people that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. But once I sat down and started trying to write a whole book, it was harder than I had thought it would be.
I kept wondering:
What should I have happen next that nobody will be expecting?
How do I make readers like the characters I'm writing about?
How much description is enough so that people can imagine what is happening, but not too much to make them get bored?
Then I thought: Well, who needs this? So I put the project away to do other things. But the story stayed on my mind, calling me (just like that bag of chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen cupboard). Over and over I would go back to the story, only to put it aside when I got disheartened. But I was more disheartened if I wasn't working on it.
It took me two years to finish that first book, and what I've discovered since then is that if I work a little bit every day, I get a lot more ideas than I do if I sit around just waiting for those ideas. Now that I'm working more seriously at writing (aiming for every day, although that doesn't always work out), I can get a lot more done faster.
If you're just getting started, here are some thoughts for you:
1.) A writer needs to read. (In a pinch, you can also watch TV and movies, but that is truly second best unless you plan to write for TV and movies.)
2.) When the story is over, think about it. Think of specific reasons you liked the story (the picture on the cover or the actor who played the lead was cute is not a good enough reason), and think of reasons you didn't like the story. If you think something was unbelievable, pretend you're the writer: how would you fix it? Didn't like the end? Think up a new one--but make sure it fits the rest of the story. Too long? What would you have cut out? (But before you delete anything, try to figure out why the author put it in there to begin with.)
3.) Write the kind of stories you like. If you most enjoy stories set in fairy tale times, write those; if you prefer stories about everyday American kids, write those; funny stories, spooky stories, romances, mysteries--you'll do best with what you like to read, because you know what works and what doesn't work for you when you're reading.
4.) Write a little bit every day. It's too easy to say "I'll write when I'm inspired." Writing is like exercising: the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Thinking about your story doesn't count. Try to write at least 1 page. If--the next day--you decide you hate it, you can always tear it up and start over.
5.) But don't do that too often. Finish what you start. A lot of would-be writers come up with a great beginning, then they go back and fiddle with that beginning day after day until they get tired of it, so they start a new story, then fiddle with that one's beginning... And so on. And they never finish a story. (More on this in a bit.)
6.) Whether you finish a story and don't like it or you've given up without finishing it--don't throw it away. Maybe after a little time passes you might come up with a way to fix it. Or you might decide that the story is hopeless--but one of the characters is interesting and should be in a different story. Or you might be able to use the setting to go off in a totally different direction. If nothing else, when you get to be a year or two older, your writings will be like a time machine bringing you back to the way you think now. Who knows? Some time in the future that might be just what you need for one of your stories.
OK, back to those people who never finish a story. A lot of writers get stuck in the middle. Many times a story becomes stuck because the author doesn't really know the characters well enough. One way to get unstuck might be to start asking questions about your character, questions like:
What is it that makes this person angry?
What makes him (or her) happy?
How about afraid?
What secret would he be unwilling to share--even with his best friend?
Does he have a secret that he wouldn't admit even to himself? (That is: Do you as the author know something about him that he doesn't realize himself?)
You might try having your character write you a letter--possibly complaining about the story, or about the other characters. (If your character doesn't have anything to complain about, you're making his or her life too easy, and the story will be boring.)
And finally be aware that publishers receive thousands of manuscripts every year, and only publish a small fraction of them.
I wish you good luck in your writing. But remember that getting your story published is not the significant thing. The significant thing is actually writing it.
BOOK AND MAGAZINE PUBLISHERS
PUBLISHING WORKS BY YOUNG AUTHORS
I'm delighted to hear that you're interested in writing. The best advice I can give is to read a lot to prepare yourself for writing; and also not to become discouraged—either by the writing process itself (which can sometimes be slower and harder than you think it should be), or by any rejections you might receive. Another thing to keep in mind is that at this point you should be concentrating on experimenting and having fun with your writing—don’t worry too much about getting published.
HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN
803 Church St.
Honesdale, PA 18431
“We’d love to see the creative work you’ve made! Share a poem or story that you’ve written or a picture that you’ve drawn, photographed, or painted. All submissions must be created by you. (No people in the photos, please.)”
MAGIC DRAGON MAGAZINE
P.O. Box 687
Webster, NY 14580
quarterly publication by elementary school age children
Stories and essays can be up to three pages (neatly printed or typed); poetry up to 30 lines--serious or funny, true or fiction
You may send original art or a copy. If you want original art returned, enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope big enough for it. If you send a copy, be sure it represents fairly the original work (colors are the same, lines are clear, copy looks just like the original). Your name should appear somewhere on the artwork.
Each piece of writing or art must have a “Permission to Publish” form attached. (Available on the website.)
You may send writing to either the P.O. Box or by e-mail.
You may send digital photos or scanned art in jpeg files.
NEW MOON GIRLS
an online community and print magazine where girls create and share poetry, artwork, videos and more. Girls can see their work published online or in the magazine.
1514 Elmwood Ave./Suite 2
Evanston, IL 60201
open to high school students, grades 9 - 12
all the editors are high school students
stories and creative essays up to 1,800 words; poetry up to 80 lines
SKIPPING STONES, MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S MAGAZINE
P.O. Box 3939
Eugene, OR 97403-0939
ATTN: Managing Editor
70% written by children and teens
established 1988, for kids under the age of 18
magazine publishes stories, articles, poems, jokes, riddles
runs various contests
length of short stories and articles: up to 1,000 words; poetry: up to 30 lines
artwork: comics, cartoons, b&w or color photos, paintings, drawings; prefers ink & pen or pencil; color photos OK
will accept typewritten, legibly handwritten, computer manuscripts
submissions should include “cover letter with name, age, address, school, cultural background, inspiration piece, dreams for future”
“international, minorities, and under-represented populations receive priority”
P.O. Box 83
Santa Cruz, CA 95063-0083
Articles/Fiction Editor, Art Director: Ms. Gerry Mandel
by children age 13 or younger
preference is for work based on personal experiences
magazine published 6 times a year
fiction (animal, contemporary, fantasy, history, problem-solving, science fiction, sports, spy/mystery/adventure) or nonfiction stories (up to 10 pages, but most are 2 – 5 pages), poems, and book reviews
submit through website (can be handwritten, but needs to be sent electronically
artwork: illustrations, color
submissions through e-mail
for student writers K – 12
articles, essays, book reviews, stories, poems, or drawings
to be considered for publication in an upcoming issue, a parent or guardian needs to complete and submit the Student Writer Entry and Parental Consent Form
for students ages 13-19
a national teen magazine, book series, and website devoted entirely to teenage writing, art, photos and forums.
poetry sports, movie reviews, fiction
submit on line
Most often, you can submit your work electronically. When submitting by mail, NEVER send an original or your only copy. Be sure to send an S.A.S.E. (self-addressed, stamped envelope) so that the editors can return your work if they cannot use it.
When you get older, editors will insist that stories be typewritten; but some publishers will accept neatly handwritten manuscripts. In all cases, put your name and address in the top left-hand corner of the first page, along with school, grade level, and teacher’s name; after that, put your name on every page.
Best of luck to you.
Vivian Vande Velde
*Check out additional rules and requirements on each website.
Psst...young writers, this section is for you!!
I try to update this list at the beginning of every school year, but be aware that things change.
Here are the writers from South Park with
their #1 writing rule:
(Warning: as with South Park itself, their language occasionally had to be bleeped out)
Videos of authors offering advice