A Little Snippet on Writing Nonfiction for Kids

News Flash: I am no expert in this genre. But it’s one I’m trying to stretch myself into, another curve I’m trying to include on my writing path. So you’re going to get bits & pieces about it here, as I work along and figure out the process.

The last few weeks I’ve been working on some samples to send out to one or more publishers, hoping what I write will click with someone there. To get started, I bought a few books of the type I’m trying to write, and I spent some time reading & analyzing, breaking down what kind of information they share and how they deliver it. Then I started writing.

I’ve got the first book nearly finished–I need to come back to it and do some last revision. This book was an animal one–fits into the science category for very young children. We’re talking a sentence or two a page–short sentences. With active verbs and strong words that, mostly, will fit into a young reader’s palette. Challenging. And fun.

The one I’m working on now is a biography, for older kids, which I have to say is my real love. This was the kind of nonfiction I devoured when I was young–the series biographies that opened a tiny window into another life, another time. The kind that had me tying grass on my father’s fruit trees to act out Luther Burbank’s grafting technique (Note that I did not become a biologist.) and “building” phonographs out of binder paper and scotch tape after reading about Thomas Edison (Note that I also did not become an engineer.). Anyway, I had recently read a wonderful grown-up biography of someone who felt like an ideal subject, and I’m now in the process of picking and choosing eentsy-weentsy, intriguing details from that book, ones that will show the big picture about this man to a young reader who, today, is a lot like I was then.

And I’m loving it.

The reading, the research, the weaving is so different from doing the same for fiction. Which, yes, I also love, but…I don’t find particularly relaxing. Researching for fiction seems to be a matter of looking for the information you already know you need–hoping it’ll fit into your plot and then, if it doesn’t, grappling with your plot again to make the reality and the story come together. Or looking and looking and not finding the details you need. Still.

With the nonfiction, I find myself reading in a more open kind of way, antennae out for the thing that makes me say, “Yes! That’ll get them!” The part of the story that is fascinating, that might tie up with something a young teen is already interested in, or that will intrigue them enough to start them thinking about something new. And then finding the word, the exactly right words, to share it with them. It feels a much more relaxed process, at least for me, more like finding the puzzle piece that really goes in that spot, less like trying to press one in that might very well belong somewhere else.

Relaxing. Some people, I know, find the constraints of word counts and vocabulary limiting and restrictive. And I can see that. I don’t know that I could do it full-time, without giving myself the room to go beyond them in my fiction. But…as another layer to my world of writing, I love this puzzle time. I guess it’s something like taking a cookie mold and a huge bowl of batter, pouring the batter into the mold and getting something like this.

With lines that clear and precise.

How about you? Is there one kind of writing that you do most of the time and another that you do less frequently? One that adds contrast and maybe, in some way, gives you a breather from the norm? Leave a comment and let us hear about it.


Writing Conferences: Yes, No, or Why?

One of the debates you hear as people talk about writing paths is whether or not writing conferences are useful. Me? I admit it. I’m a huge fan. I think the fact that I’ve gone to writing conferences has a lot to do with where I am on my own path, with the steps I’ve made toward becoming a serious, committed, professional writer.

Of course, many of my “reasons” may very well be an excuse for the fact that I just have a great time at conferences!

I do think, though, that we can have very different needs or goals for each writing conference we attend, depending on where we are on our paths. It’s not quite a “stages” thing, but I think there are several different reasons a writer should go to a conference.

  • To spend a day or two surrounded by “your” people, reminding yourself that you are a writer and that being a writer is wonderful
  • To learn more about the writing craft and improve your writing skills
  • To connect with other writers for a specific reason–learning more about a genre, doing research about someone in the publishing business, networking to locate one or more critique partners
  • To meet an agent or editor and to pitch a specific writing project, hopefully taking your path one step closer to publication

For me, there has been a progression in the why (and the way) I attend writing conferences. I’ve been an attendee, just happy to escape from daily life, attend workshops, and mingle. I’ve been a volunteer, judging contest entries, arranging flowers, passing out water bottles. And I’ve been a speaker, finding out just how cool it is to wear a Faculty badge, to have another writer come up and thank me for something I said in a workshop. Someday, soon, I see myself actually sitting behind a table, signing copies of The Critiquer’s Survival Guide and, hopefully, other books, too.

I’ve also had the bad times–the pitch to an agent that felt flat, the foot-in-the-mouth with someone I had hoped to connect with, the interaction with the attendee who isn’t having a good experience and can’t help taking it out on somebody, anybody.

For me, though, I give writing conferences a ten out of ten. I’m a writer and a reader. So much of my life is just about words. There isn’t much better than being surrounded by a crowd of people who feel the same.

Don’t take my word for it, though. I did a little browsing, and found a few other “takes” for you on the whole writing conference question.

What about you? Have you gone to any conferences? What do you like/dislike about them? How do you think going to a conference might help you move forward on your writing path?