We all grow as writers as we move along on our writerly journey. When we look back on the things we wrote a year, five years, or ten years ago, we can tell how much we’ve grown. What is one thing that you’ve done to help yourself grow as a writer that you would recommend to someone else?
Blogging about science and nature at Archimedes Notebook http://archimedesnotebook.blogspot.com/
Reviewing children’s books at Sally’s Bookshelf http://sallysbookshelf.blogspot.com/
The most important thing I’ve done over the past couple years is take my desire to write picture books more seriously. For me, that meant taking some online courses and a class on children’s literature at the local community college. It also meant “homework”: reading – and reviewing – as many picture books as I could. I keep a book log where I jot notes about the picture books I read. Sometimes I draw their storyboards or type out the complete text. I also post book reviews on my blogs and on Susanna Leonard Hill’s awesome Perfect Picture Book Friday posts…. which meant “thinking beyond the book” to activities and other ways to connect children with literature.
Writer for Children – Reader Forever
Forty years ago, I wrote a bunch of picture book stories for my own children. Ten years ago, I decided it was time to resurrect one of them. I even made a dummy with charming illustrations my daughter-in-law had drawn. My niece had worked for Random House briefly and had a contact there, so, knowing NOTHING about their submission guidelines or how submissions work for most publishing houses, I sent this glorified dummy to an editor at Random House. The editor kindly sent me a lovely personal rejection (and my dummy back – even though I hadn’t enclosed an SASE). The one thing that stands out to me that I didn’t do then that I should have was: HAVE SOMEONE ELSE READ YOUR WORK!
The one thing I’ve done that has helped me the most and that will continue to help me grow as a writer is: JOIN A CRITIQUE GROUP. This is crucial for several reasons:
- Objective feedback from people who are studying the craft of writing
- Helpful suggestions to make your stories stronger
- Advice and information about writing resources, submission opportunities, conferences and classes
- Support and encouragement
I’m now part of three critique groups that exchange manuscripts on a regular basis. I look forward to each exchange, not only because I get great feedback on my stories, but also because I learn so much about writing by critiquing the manuscripts of others! So, if you are not part of a critique group already…go and find one! You’ll be glad you did!
Freelance writer since 1996
Set goals and stay focused.
Have you seen the blinders owners put on horses to keep the horses’ attention front and center? I imagine myself with those blinders every time I think I’m about to stray from my focus for this year, which is to read picture books, write picture books, and study how to write better picture books. I’ve been tempted often — and easily.
I mean, what does it matter if I take a workshop about writing chapter books? It’s about writing, so it can’t hurt, right? But is there a picture book writing workshop I could do instead? For sure. In fact, I recently took “Revising – and Reimagining – Your Picture Book Manuscript,” presented by Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. I learned techniques I can apply to every manuscript I’ve written to immediately improve them.
And is it terrible if I write stories or poems for grown-ups when I meet to write with friends? Probably not, but where should my focus be? Picture books! So far this year I’ve completed nine new PB manuscripts.
See? Instead of swerving into chapter book territory, or writing for adults when I meet with my writing group, I put those blinders on and stayed on track.
I’m loving my blinders. Get some for yourself.
Joining a critique group and sharing my work with fellow writers is one of the most important things I’ve done for my career as a writer. I used to be afraid of critiques. I didn’t want to know what others think of me and my work. I was afraid of the truth. It took me a while before I got the nerve to join a critique group. As it turned out, what I was most afraid of is what helped me take my writing to the next level. Now, I am the first to snatch up an opportunity for a critique. When I look back at when I first joined a critique group, I was appreciative of the kind words/positive feedback. But now, I crave the truth! Please don’t sugar-coat my critique. I want you to give it to me straight! What didn’t work? Topic overdone? Was it boring? Of course, my critique partners are never blunt. They have a knack of telling the awful truth in a very nice way. After all, they are writers.
Learning my story’s weaknesses helped me become a better writer. Besides, It’s better to learn that my story sucked from my peers than from an editor or agent, don’t you think? Here are my top 3 reasons I find critique groups valuable:
- Receiving feedback will help you to be more analytical of your own work.
- A critique may give you a new perspective on your story with questions that surface. Many times this can help move your story forward or take an alternate turn for the better.
- A second pair of eyes can help you identify mistakes or flaws you may have overlooked.
I was amazed at how helpful the writing community is. They have a genuine interest to help each other grow as writers. So, take advantage of that and join a critique group!
Marcie Flinchum Atkins
Children’s and YA Writer
I’ve been writing for a long time, and I’ve taken lots of classes in graduate school and on my own, but nothing has transformed my writing more than submitting regularly to my critique group and being a part of various writing communities.
First of all, when you finally find your tribe—picture book writers, nonfiction writers, YA writers, middle grade writers, poets—whatever your niche, there is a group for you. Sometimes those relationships are formed online, sometimes they are formed in person. But nothing in my writing life is more vital to me than my writer friend connections. We share our collective knowledge and that has lead me to many, many opportunities. In all honesty, most of my freelance writing projects have come to me because a friend recommended various jobs to me.
Secondly, my critique groups are a huge part of making me a better writer. I am a part of three critique groups. Having deadlines for these groups keeps me writing. The more I write, the better my writing becomes. Developing a dialogue about how to make my writing better has also made me a better writer. I have grown tremendously as a result of being active in critique groups.