Writing a Children’s Book: What no one told me

When I sat down to write my first-ever children’s book, I was actually a bit scared.

Anyone who’s ever tried something completely new knows this anxiety. And anyone who’s ever written something for publication knows the self-conscious dread…

What if it doesn’t turn out well?

This fear applies to everyone, not just writers. Failing to make the free-throw when everyone one is watching. Blanking on your next line during the performance. Forgetting a slide in your presentation. Telling a joke that no one laughs at. Publishing a book that no one likes. Or perhaps worse yet… no one reads.

The stakes in all these situations are basically the same: public humiliation and disgrace on your family.

Well, maybe not that severe. But definitely humiliation. Most of us care about doing well at what we like, but all of us care about doing well in front of people. I had classmates in my rhetoric major that didn’t give a rip about public speaking, but they sure as heck memorized their speeches for fear of embarrassment.

You’d think that having written and published a full-length novel would have dispelled this fear of failing at a children’s book, right?

Nope. But that didn’t stop me, and it shouldn’t stop you.

As I mentioned, it was a friend who challenged me to write a children’s book in the first place. And so when I sat down to write it, with nothing but a title that had popped into my head from goodness-knows-where, I saw the project as a foggy forest I was about to explore with no compass or map. So I started doing some research, as any dutiful writer would. I looked up information on what kinds of children’s books were making it in the market, what other books mine might need to sound like, different illustration styles—all before writing a single word. In my mind, this was equipping me with the tools to find my way through the forest without getting lost, while I had yet to take a single step.

And as long as I thought about it that way, I wasn’t going anywhere.

Until I finally began putting words down, and the adventure began. The fact is, as soon as I started writing, I began to discover things.

The first thing I discovered?

The story needed alliteration.

I already knew the title would have it, but it had never occurred to me to lace the entire story with a bunch of “m” words that would make building vocabulary fun for kids.

The second thing I discovered?

It was a story with values.

I already had the basic idea of answering the question of where missing socks go, but I had never thought of the story in a way that humanized the socks—I had never thought of what a missing sock might learn from its exploits.

With each of these discoveries, it was like forgetting the map and turning over rocks and logs to look at what was under them. Writing a children’s book became less “project” and more play. And I think that’s the way it should be.

When it comes to children’s books, unleashing your creativity on the page should be less about sounding good and more about having fun.

If you remain self-conscious while writing it, you are limiting yourself. Let the inner goof out! Make those puns! Go crazy with the rhymes! Of course there will be a time for revision (insert link), but that time isn’t the first draft.

There will also be a time for input from other people– in fact, the sooner you pitch your idea to someone, the better. This doesn’t mean you need someone hovering over your shoulder as you fumble through the first draft, but it does mean that your idea needs some initial pizazz. If an adult isn’t interested to know more about your story, then a little kid certainly won’t be. So while cranking out the actual text for the first time might require some privacy, developing your big idea is often best done with some sort of audience. Because children’s books need to be fun, feedback is crucial– but never, ever, ever let that stop you from going wild on the first run.

If you shun the pun, you’ll have no fun. And neither will the kids (or their parents for that matter).

Have you ever tried writing a children’s book? Ever held back for fear of embarrassment? What are some skills or quirks you find yourself afraid to share that might actually spice things up?

Got kids? Grandkids? Nieces and nephews?

Or are you just plain curious to find out where all the missing socks go? Find out one ambitious sock’s journey by ordering your copy of The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock!

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5 Comments on “Writing a Children’s Book: What no one told me

  1. Writing for children is tricky and gratifying. Just like writing for anyone, in some ways. You are so wise to recognize that “you have to let the goof out” when writing for very young children, especially. The love rhyme and alliteration and sound effects, and when the characters are either their ages or are objects like Melvin the Missing Sock, with whom they have affinity or familiarity. Stew the Missing Screwdriver is not likely to go over well with a three- or four-year-old. Well, unless Dad is a carpenter or Mom is an electrician, etc.

    Lovely article. Looking forward to reading the book.

    • Stew the Missing Screwdriver… that sounds like a Tim Burton children’s story or something!! XD Thank you, I really hope you and the young ones in your life are able to enjoy it!

    • Shiloh..I loved reading to my children when they were little. Now I wish someone would.read to me…and or that I made more time to read. I’m so excited for your first children’s book. I’ve many ideas inside that I thought my retirement time someday would fill….BUT you make me want to start now.
      Congratulations. You are a young inspiration.!!

      • Thank you so much for your words! I hope you do start on some of those ideas soon– I sure would love to see them. It’s true though that the frenzy and business of life can squelch creativity at least temporarily, and make it look like there will never be time for those ideas. And yet we still find ways to make it happen somehow! Please keep me updated. 🙂

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