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Monday, December 6, 2010

The A to Zs of Writing for Children: A Gift in Quotes



I've been teaching writing for kids in one way or another for many years now, including currently for the MFA program in children's literature at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. That means I've done a lot of reading about writing for kids, and I started writing down favorite quotes about the process as I came across them. One day, I realized I had an abecedarian of quotes - and that's my gift to you this holiday season. (Okay - I had to cheat slightly with X. There's just not much writing advice about xylophones, x-rays or xenophobia.)

A "When you catch an adjective, kill it." Mark Twain

B “I conceive that the right way to write a story for boys is to write so that it will not only interest boys but strongly interest any man who has ever been a boy. That immensely enlarges the audience.” -- Mark Twain, in a letter to Fred J. Hall

C "You must write for children the same way you write for adults, only better" Maxim Gorky

D "You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it's going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children." Madeleine L'Engle

E “A child’s writer should, ideally, be a dedicated semi-lunatic, a kind of poet with a marvelous idea, who preferably, when not committing the marvelous idea to paper does something else of a quite different kind, so as to acquire new and rich experience.” J. Aiken

F “‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever.”
—Philip Pullman, 1996 Carnegie Medal acceptance speech

G "All really good picture books are written to be read five hundred times" Rosemary Wells

H “They don’t come to your house,” George Ella Lyon on editors

I "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." Jack London

J “It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end. Ursula K. LeGuin

K “The author must keep his mouth shut when his work starts to speak.” Friederich Nietzsche

L "No, it's not a very good story—its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside." Stephen King

M If you want to send a message, write a letter. Children’s books are not the place for teaching something you think they need to learn. Kitty Griffin

N “Make it new.” Ezra Pound


O “Writing for adults, you have to keep reminding them of what is going on. The poor things have given up using their brains when they read. Children you only need to tell things to once.” Diana Wynne Jones

P “The story is not in the plot but in the telling.” Ursula K. LeGuin

Q I believe that good questions are more important than answers, and the best children's books ask questions, and make the readers ask questions. And every new question is going to disturb someone's universe. - Madeleine L'Engle

R “The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.” Tom Clancy

S Sure, it's simple, writing for kids . . . . Just as simple as bringing them up. - Ursula K. LeGuin

T “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Robert Frost

U "Fantasy's hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it." Lloyd Alexander

V “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.” Stephen King

W "You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft—then you can add all the genius you like."
Phyllis A. Whitney

X “Writing is communication, not self-expression. Nobody in this world wants to read your diary except your mother.” Richard Peck

Y “A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.” Ring Lardner

Z Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.” Ray Bradbury

May you find time for some writing (not to mention opportunities for inspiration - that's how a writer has to look at all those bad family moments) among all your preparations and festivities!

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