Writing Advice


Writing advice from award-winning children's author

Ten Tips Especially for Young Writers

1. Write for fun. Amuse yourself with wild scenes and outrageous characters. If you're having fun, so will your  readers. 

2. Submit your work AFTER you've researched publishers from publications like Writers Market or Children's  Writer & Illustrator's Market. It's important to follow submission rules. 


3. Expect some rejections. Rejection is part of the writing experience. I am actually proud of my rejections  because they show that I worked hard, and each time I try I'm closer to succeeding. I have a huge box full of  rejection letters. I also have some great letters from editors who contracted my work. 

4. Volunteer to do any newsletters for groups you're involved in (I did our school bulletin and wrote articles about a  dance group I belonged to). I got a byline and it was great writing experience. I still contribute articles for free to  groups I belong to. 

5. Find a critique partner or critique group. I've exchanged critiques online and in person at a weekly group. Listen  to the feedback, but only take advise that feels right for your work. Never argue when someone gives you a  critique. If you don't agree, thank them and think over the comments. I've worked with editors who have given me  advice that I hated at first, then after I calmed down I realized their suggestions were brilliant. 

6. Read. Read. Read. Not just the books you love, but other books, too, to study different styles. Pay attention to  dialogue, transitions, characterization, pacing and any emotions you feel while reading. The more you read and  absorb, the more you'll develop your own writing voice.  

7. Rewriting makes good writing GREAT writing. Rewriting develops skill and craft. As an example, take a sentence from THE SEER #3 WITCH BALL which I'm currently writing. This is a scene  where Sabine goes to a run-down apartment building looking for a mysterious kid from school. She's nervous and  unsure what she'll find when she knocks on the door.  It started off: A woman opened the door. But that didn't say enough. I wanted to show Sabine's reaction to the woman plus add a bit of description.  So I rewrote: I was relieved when a woman opened the door. She looked tired and wore her hair tied back in a  scarf. Still not enough details to show the woman's reaction to Sabine. So I added: She gave me a dismissive look, like she wanted to slam the door.

In yet another rewrite, I added even more details to give a sense of the characters and surroundings.  First version: A woman opened the door. Current version: I was relieved when a middle-aged woman opened the door. She had tired lines etched in her  skin and her hair was tied back in a scarf. She gave me a dismissive look, probably figuring I was selling  something. Her hand was poised on the knob like she was ready to slam the door in my face. Not too many details, but enough to set this scene. Of course this whole paragraph may still change after more  rewrites.  

8. Make writing part of your regular routine. A page or two daily adds up fast. In three months you'll have over 100  pages. I write most mornings and it takes 3-6 months to finish a book. Sometimes it feels like I'll never finish, but  as long as I keep going forward, I always finish the book. And it's a GREAT feeling to write: The End. 

9. When writing books, it's common to get muddled in the middle. Some people call this writer's block. The trick  here is to tell yourself it's okay to write garbage, that the book doesn't have to be perfect. Just keep on writing and  fix problems later in the rewriting stage. And often when you look back, what seemed like garbage at the time  turns out to be really great writing. 

10. Visualize what you want to achieve and it may just happen. Work hard, love what you do, and believe that  dreams can come true. They did for me.

From Kid Writer to Published Author

A young girl recently asked me if 13 was too young to start writing. Of course not! There is no magic age to begin  a writing career. If the desire is there, you’re old enough (and young enough) to start writing. When I was 13, I wrote constantly. I submitted stories to teen magazines. Nothing sold for many years, but it was  a great learning experience. During school, I would fill notebooks with my writings and read it to my friends. I still  have a lot of these notebooks.

Tips for Attending Writing Conferences

I LOVE going to conferences. It's insightful to hear authors, editors and agents share their experiences. I always  take notes. 

1. Start a "conference notebook" whether online or a paper notebook. I used to use paper notebooks; using the  same one until it was filled with a history of conference notes. But now I have an iPad and prop it up with the  attached keyboard, typing notes during the presentation. It’s become common for writers to take notes on a  table/device. Just be careful all the sounds are turned off of your device. 

2. Don't bring a manuscript expecting to show it to an editor or agent – they don't want to carry more than  business cards on their trip home. Besides, they usually invite attendees to submit after the conference. But it  doesn't hurt to bring some of your work to share with writing friends. Impromptu critique sessions in hotel rooms  after conferences can be lots of fun.  

3. SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conferences are casual. Most people wear comfortable clothes -- nothing fancy. Keep the high heels  and business suits at home (unless that's your idea of comfy clothes.) Also the conference rooms can get very  cold, so bring a sweater or jacket. 

4. Read the books of the speakers before you go. This makes it easier to relate to the talks and gain a better  understanding of their experiences. If editors are speaking, check out some of the books they publish. Not only is  this a nice courtesy, but you may discover new authors you enjoy. 

5. Go to have fun. The most satisfaction I get out of a conference is talking to other authors who share my hopes,  worries, and dreams. 

6. Take pictures of all the new friends you'll make and connect with them on social media. 

7. Bring bookmarks, copies of books for the brag table. If you don't have bookmarks, business cards work great  and give you something to exchange with new friends. 

8. Hotel beds/pillows can be hard -- I bring a small pillow with me. 

9. After receiving a business card or bookmark, make a note on it to remind you about the person you just met.   When I get home after a conference and have a bunch of cards, it's easier to remember clearer with helpful notes  to remind me of new friends. 

10. Bring a refillable tumbler for water. 

11.  It’s often a good idea to bring snacks, like muffins, crackers or granola bars for those times when can’t get a  meal.  Hotel rooms often have a bar full of food goodies, but they are usually NOT complimentary and a small bag  of chips can cost over $5.  Check the cost before you munch.  

12.  Check the cost of the hotel wifi. It’s often free, but at some hotels there is a daily fee. Ask the hotel if there is  an area for free wifi.  

13. Verify any additional room charges ahead of check-out time such as meals, toiletries, coffee, and internet  charges.  And if you’re flying home, most hotels offer free or inexpensive means to print out your boarding ticket. 

14. Bring an extra zippered bag to pack new purchases for the flight home. Also I bring a light-weight bag to carry  around. 

15.  Save meal, travel, and other expense receipts for tax records.  Professional education such as conferences,  travel and books are tax deductible for working writers. What a great job! 

16.  Keep expectations reasonable.  Don't expect to snag a huge publishing contract or a top agent.  What you  can expect is to learn what editors and agent want and how to target your submissions to the right person.  You'll  also gain new ideas about writing, rewriting, characterization, etc.  Listen, take notes, and soak in the knowledge  offered.   Then when you get home, polish your work and send it off. 

17. Pick compatible roommates for fun conversations AFTER the workshops are over and to help cut room  expenses. 

18.  If you don't have anyone to hang out with, go down to the lobby and talk!  I've met lots of new friends that  way.  And meeting other writers is the most fun of attending a SCBWI conference. 

19.   Think about your characters and current writing project when listening to advice.  Instead of taking the  information in a general way, mentally applying the information to specific characters/plots can be helpful. 

20.  When it’s all over plan at least one day for a “crash day” at home because you’ll be tired and need to slowly  recover.  You’ve had a GREAT time…now relax!  Then get back to writing.