What’s it Like to be a Children’s Author?

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

― Madeleine L’Engle

Kids often wonder how their favorite authors create the stories they read. The answers are about as varied as the authors. We’ve probably all heard the story of how J.K. Rowling started writing her Harry Potter series on a napkin in a coffee shop.

Some people think writing for children is an easy way to break into writing. Because works for children are generally shorter, aspiring authors think it will be easy. Most picture books being published now range from 500-1000 words. That’s not very many words. About the length of this blog post. It is extremely difficult to tell an entire story, with a complete plot and fully fleshed-out characters, in that many words. It takes a special talent and lots of revision to create great picture books.

Even novels for children don’t often get the respect they deserve. Maybe they do now; since the advent of Harry Potter and Twilight more people seem to love reading novels for young readers. But again, these books aren’t necessarily easier to write than adult novels. When you have unlimited words, it’s very easy to say more than needed. Most of us who write for children understand that writing shorter novels means we have to work harder to make sure every single word is necessary. I personally think children are more discerning readers than adults, so the writing has to be even better for them. They’re not going to plow through 500 pages if it’s not brilliant.

Most writers have other jobs, or travel around visiting schools, libraries, and bookstores to talk about their books. I knew one author who had a full-time day job, but rode the bus about an hour both ways. She wrote on the bus. Another author friend is a college professor, so he gets up at 4:00 a.m. and goes to campus where it is still quiet and peaceful. That is his writing time. Still another worked for many years as a barista while her husband was in school. She did her writing after putting in several hours bustling around getting coffee for her customers. Now that he is out of school and working, she is able to make writing her full time job.

Some authors are parents who have to take care of their young children. One author friend had a writing nook under the stairway in her house where there was just enough room for a desk, a chair, and a computer—and she could still keep an eye on her children.

Because writing is really, really hard work, it requires concentration; it’s hard to do when you are distracted by other stuff. So some writers have offices away from home where they go to write. Most authors, though, work at home.

Here’s something to try: Write a story. Or pick one you may have already written. Now cut it in half, while still keeping all the important elements for a story. That is what it’s like to write for children.

Check out these authors used in the examples above: Chris Crowe, Miriam Forster, Terri Farley, Margaret Peterson Haddix.