Some people think anyone can write children’s material…but can they? In this first part of a multi-part series of podcasts on writing for children, Chris and Gena break down the reasons you may want to write for kids…and the reasons you shouldn’t.
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Episode 48 Transcription:
[00:00:14].440] - Chris Hello and welcome to Writing Momentum. I'm Christopher Maselli, and I'm here with my wife, Gena Maselli. How are you doing today? [00:00:23].200] - Gena I'm doing really well. We're coming to the end. I'm getting ready to go do a fun project with the kids here and a little bit. [00:00:29].680] - Chris I didn't know about that. Okay, cool. [00:00:32].810] - Gena We're going to have fun. [00:00:34].050] - Chris Speaking of working with children today, we are talking about children's books. And are you qualified to write children's books? [00:00:41].520] - Gena Totally unexpected or planned segue. There you go. [00:00:46].770] - Chris But it works well because so many times people wonder or they think, hey, I want to write a children's book. And they never stop to ask themselves, hey, am I qualified to do this? Is this something I should be doing? And sometimes people don't write them, and they should also be asking themselves, maybe I should be writing children's books. And so that's what we want to talk about today, is the reasons for and against writing children's books for most of us. [00:01:10].450] - Gena Yeah. And I think there's a lot of people that recently I have read on our newsletter, if you don't get our newsletter, be sure to sign up for that. But there's a lot of people that have responded to that and to our Facebook group as well and have said that they are children's book writers. And I thought we have not done a lot of really talking about children's books on our podcast, and I thought this would be a good subject for us to dive into. So we're actually going to do a three part series on this, and I say it's three part now, maybe more. We may actually add to it because we have written quite a bit for children. [00:01:50].040] - Chris Yeah. And a lot of these books, if you're watching on video, a lot of the books back behind us, our children's books that we've written over the years, we have always loved writing for children. I kind of got my start in writing for children, and so it's really been something fun for me. But as the years have gone on, I still write for kids today, even though I write marketing material and a lot of other stuff, but I also. [00:02:12].150] - Gena Write for children on a lot of different areas. And that's the thing when people talk about what kind of writing do you do? Children's writing is not the first one that I talk about that I have done, but I've actually been writing for children now for probably 20. Actually, you know what my first book contract was? Writing for a YA audience. [00:02:33].240] - Chris I think you're right. [00:02:33].810] - Gena It was a two book contract, and I wrote for a YA audience. So that's where I started. And then we'll talk about some of the different types of writing that we've done as we go through this list because we've done a lot of different types of writing. [00:02:46].990] - Chris Yes. [00:02:48].110] - Gena I have a question for you at the end. I got a pop quiz question for you. [00:02:53].320] - Chris Well, next week especially, we're going to talk about all the different kinds of things that you can write for kids, and some of them may surprise you that you didn't realize that you can do that you can get paid for doing, which is kind of cool. But today the focus is really, should you write for kids? Right. Why should you? Why should you? Maybe not. And the first thing we wanted to cover is that one of the reasons that maybe you should write for kids is because you want to give back. Right. Maybe you felt like hey I've got some good life experience or I've got some things that I've learned, some things that I've discovered in my life, and I want to share that with the next generation. Well, writing for kids is a great way to do that. Now, that doesn't mean you want to be preacher or anything like that with it. But a lot of times the stories we write, even the fiction stories, have real life stories and things that we've learned in them, real life themes, right. And those are the kind of things that you can write to give back to your audience. [00:03:47].220] - Gena Absolutely. And there's a lot of people that they will say, well, I've worked with children for 20 years. Ten years, 20 years, or something like that. They've worked with children in some capacity. Maybe they've been a teacher or a preschool teacher. Maybe they've been a children's church worker where they've worked with kids. Or maybe they've done something else. Maybe they're a home school parent. And let me tell you, as a home school parent, you read a lot of books, a lot of children's books. Or just as a parent who sits down, when our children were younger and we were reading them picture books every night, they would get books at nap time, they get books before bed. And not just one. They wanted multiple books. So I know there's a lot of people out there, and even grandparents who want now they've got this life experience that they're able to give back and they want to write something for their grandchildren. So there's a lot of people that have when we talk about children's book writing, we say, you want to give back. It's not necessarily because you have a master's in children's development and you want to give back. [00:05:01].260] - Gena It can be just that. You love children's books. You've had children's books that you have really spoken to you or to your kids or to your grandkids or to your classroom, and it's time to write your own because you think, I know what resonates with kids. I know what they like. [00:05:18].150] - Chris Yeah, and that's true. Another reason though, maybe just because you yourself are really in touch with what we might call our inner child right now. I'm not getting strange with that, but I mean, I know when I first started writing, I felt like the subjects I want to write on, the things I want to write about, really resonates with a much younger audience than what I am. Right. I mean, I was in my twenties at the time, and yet I found myself writing things about characters that were middle graders. Right. There were between eight and twelve years old. Because that was kind of an impactful time of my life, and I felt like I could connect with that group and the way I wrote. And so I was very in touch with what that age group is interested in and the way they talk and the kind of things they thought would be fun in a book. Right? And so to me it was very easy to start writing for that age group because I connected with that age group in my life. [00:06:16].500] - Gena I think also that the witty banner or kind of the zaniness of children's books, not just you, but as you're talking, I can think of two other men that we have known who had written actually now three and might come to my mind. I'm sure I could keep going. Who are writers and authors who are writing for that audience and they just have that kind of zany fun. They're going to just go with it. It just speaks to them. [00:06:49].260] - Chris If that's the kind of book you want to write. I also know a lot of authors who write for that age group. They can write very serious material. Right? They can write very material, yeah. Poignant. That really resonates. But they can write it in such a way that kids in that age group will just eat it up. They'll love it. And so if that's you, if you feel like man, that is, if there's a certain age that you connect with and it doesn't have to be age twelve, like what I said, it could be even younger, could be a little older. Like what young adults read anything around there? That may be one reason you want to write for that group, is because that's just where you kind of find yourself settling. And there's a lot of people, though, that find themselves settling with they can write better for adults. And that's fine too. It just depends on who you work best with, right? In your mind and in the way you write. [00:07:39].260] - Gena Definitely. [00:07:40].020] - Chris Yeah, definitely. Another reason you might want to write for this age group or for young kids is because you yourself love, let me say that again, you yourself love children's books. Now this is important because so many times authors, we've heard of so many authors who don't read themselves, right? They don't read. They'll say, well, I'm writing a self help book but they don't read self help books or they write for children, but they don't write children's books or sorry, read children's books. You've got to be able to read in the genre that you're writing for. And so if you are writing picture books, you'd better be reading a lot of picture books. And it's especially picture books that I find that most authors who want to write for children, they don't read in the genre, right? They want to write a picture book, but they haven't read any picture books, not any at length, right? When I was in school, I remember I had to read hundreds, hundreds of picture books. And when you do that, you start to see how that structure is set up, right? You see what works, you see what doesn't work. [00:08:51].640] - Chris And that's the kind of thing you need to know. Otherwise you're going to make those same common mistakes yourself when you're writing your book. So spend some time. You can go to a Barnes and Noble or go to a library, just get a couple hundred picture books and start reading through them. It doesn't take long to read through most of them. A lot of them don't have a lot of copy in them. But when you read them, you will learn so much. So make sure that you love reading children's books and love reading the kind of age group that you're wanting to write in. Otherwise it may not be a good idea. [00:09:22].770] - Gena Well, I do want to do a bit of a plug here because you have actually taught on this. You have taught on children's. You have a series that you've written or I'm sorry, a video series and a training that you've done on writing for children. The super what is it? The children's writing super system that you've done. And it is a great series because you get into the common mistakes that a lot of people make with children's writing. You also get into story structure, which I think there can be this misconception that when you're writing for children's books that it's going to be easier and that it's going to be simpler and you can just kind of throw anything on a page and it works. But being able to write and make a story in a shorter amount of time can be a challenge. [00:10:17].080] - Chris It can be a challenge. And that's actually one of the points that we're going to make here, is that don't write because you think it will be easier than writing for adults. Don't write for children because you think it'll be easier. I have found over the years it is much more difficult to write for children than it is for adults because you have to be able to deliver strong concepts with a very little amount of words, right? Or maybe better said, with words that are smaller in scope. Right? You can't be as flowery with crispy. You have a more limited amount of things you can work with. And because of that, it's harder. It is not easier to do. But I find it very rewarding when you can do it, because you really feel like you've accomplished something. You've got a good message across, but don't feel like you're going to write for children because you're like, I can't write very well for adults. I'll just write this for children. That's not a good motivation. You don't want to do that. [00:11:12].370] - Gena No. And I would say even that writing for children will make you a better writer overall. Practicing that the techniques of it, because and I've learned a lot of that from you, Chris. Because for years I watched you take really complicated topics and subjects. And one of your main jobs was breaking those down in a way that kids could relate to them and understand them. And that was it was so it was beautiful to watch you do that. I mean, and I'm saying this seriously, but doing that made you a better writer. It made you a better teacher. It made you wear even, I think, a better speaker, because you never talk over even to this day, you don't talk over people's heads. And people, I think, even, like when you're talking about tech or you're talking about productivity or you're talking about all these other areas, you're able to take those topics and break them down so that someone like me, who isn't extremely techie, understands it. And so I think writing for children, like the practice of writing for children, can make someone very much a better writer overall. [00:12:31].960] - Chris Yeah, I totally agree. Because it makes you more succinct in what you write. It makes you more purposeful in what you write. And overall, it just strengthens everything you do. Here's a great exercise. Find something written for adults that's rather complicated. Maybe it's a piece about something happening in the medical field, or maybe it's something theological or even something political and try to break that down in a way that a child could understand it, and first break it down so the teenager could understand it. Then a middle grader, we're going younger. Then childhood, like reads a chapter book and then maybe a picture book. See if you can take a difficult subject and weave it for different younger audiences. And you'll find that the younger you go, the more challenging it gets. And sometimes you have to start leaving things out, and you start to really see what's important in a subject when you have to pare it down like that. [00:13:31].530] - Gena Absolutely. So that would be an interesting thing, because I think of people who write on something that's more abstract. And when you're writing for kids and we can talk about this later in one of our upcoming episodes, but you're talking about child development as well. What can a child understand at different ages? [00:13:51].910] - Chris Yes. [00:13:52].300] - Gena And it's not that one child is smarter or less smart or whatever. It's just the natural maturity that happens that they're able to understand. But taking something even like helping a child deal with grief or helping you see books sometimes that are written about helping a child understand adoption, their own adoption, these challenging subjects, that you have to break those down for kids. It's an exercise in becoming a more masterful writer. Definitely. [00:14:24].580] - Chris Absolutely. So that's one reason you shouldn't write for kids. What's? Another reason, gena. Maybe you shouldn't write for kids. [00:14:31].720] - Gena Okay. So there are always exceptions to what we're going to say here. We are very careful not to throw down edicts. I'm not a fan of edicts, but I will say that if you are going into children's writing expecting for a windfall of cash, you are probably going to be disappointed. It is not the most lucrative type of writing there is. It is a very rewarding type of writing. But as far as being lucrative, there's a lot of competition in the market. There's a lot of different types of writing, which we're going to talk about in our next episode, I believe, but there's just a lot of competition. And what could you add to that, Chris? It's just not something that usually results in a lot of money. [00:15:24].810] - Chris Yeah. And people always look at the Harry Potter series and think, look what that's become. But that is such an exception to the rule, right. So I usually tell people, you might be able to make a living writing for children. Right. If you really hustle and bustle, you can make a decent amount of money writing books and other materials. We'll talk about next week writing for children, but you probably won't become rich doing it. Right. But you could make a decent living. However, that said, I have often found that to really make ends meet, you still need to write other things. Right. You've got to be able to have some other side gigs that you do, whether it's writing for different audiences, especially marketing material, marketing materials where you'll make the most money generally. And so if you can write to some of those audiences, then you'll free up your time so that you can write more for children. [00:16:15].210] - Gena Absolutely. Like I said, there are some exceptions to the rule. We do know some very successful children's writers, and we also know some very well respected children's writers who have won a lot of awards and have done some really masterful work. Whether or not they are making a full time living in this supporting their household, I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me either way. [00:16:47].820] - Chris That's right. [00:16:48].900] - Gena It would surprise me either way. So there you go. That's not to discourage you, but that's just a little bit of a reality check for it. Some people think, well, I'm going to write one book and I'm going to fund my retirement. And that's not really the case. I would say, though, that you can probably start to build a following with children's writing, just like you can with anything else. And if you want to develop a line, develop a line of characters or a universe that you want to build and write about and develop and create a fan base for, then you know, that's wonderful. Do it and it may prove profitable. [00:17:31].910] - Chris But that's where we say it's very rewarding, because it can be very rewarding to do that. So just a quick recap, right? Because you want to get back, right? Because you want to give back to kids, right? Because you love working with kids, right? Because you connect with your inner child, right. That inner kid in yourself, right? Because you love children's books, you want to make sure you read what you're writing. Do not write because you want a windfall of cash. And do not write because you think it'll be easier than writing for adults, because it just won't. Next week, we are going to talk about more types of writing that you can do when you're writing for kids. So if you're thinking, boy, I'd love to break into this market, or I know I have a few things I can do, but what all can be done, I'll tell you. I have written over the years. So as Gena all kinds of stuff for kids, and we're going to share those kind of things, you might be really surprised if some of those that you can do if you're not part of a writing group. [00:18:27].060] - Chris We actually have a writing group online called Writing Moments. We'd love to have you join us. It's about $15 a month and we meet every week on Wednesdays at noon Central. And we just write for an hour after having a really good, strong teaching from either Gena, myself, or a good friend, Rene Gutteridge. So we'd love to have you join us. Until next time. Remember? What, Gena? [00:18:49].090] - Gena Together we have writing momentum.