Do you want to write the kind of books that kids just can't put down?
Maybe you're not so much into the humorous stories like the tale about Aunt Jo and her cat. Perhaps you're a history buff, and you want to help kids get interested in history, too. Can you write in such a way that's fun and interesting enough to hold their attention, while delivering the historical facts they need to learn?
If you wrote a biography about the Wright Brothers, would your readers feel the curiosity and passion that made the brothers interested in flying? Would they experience Orville and Wilbur's exhilaration on that fateful day in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina when their first machine took to the air?
If you're into science and fantasy, can you make up fantastic worlds and characters that are believable? Are you able to weave into your stories actual, discovered scientific facts?
Murder mysteries ... do you have a good working knowedge of forensic evidence, or do you know how to research what you need to know? Can you write a story that's not full of obvious holes? Can you keep those readers glued to the pages until the very end when they find out who did it?
When you write, does your own passion for your craft shine through?
It's awesome to discover you have a special gift for writing or drawing ... or singing or playing basketball, for that matter. But you don't come out of your mother's womb being able to expertly write, draw, carry a tune, or dribble a ball.
The gifts we're given are tiny seeds that our Maker plants inside of us. At some point in our lives, we discover that tiny seed inside. That's when we get to work: watering it, cultivating it. It begins to grow. Time now for fertilizing, pruning. You will spend your entire life growing and tending to that gift.
For the writers and the drawers of children's books, here are some ways to cultivate your seeds:
Read Read the kind of books you want to write. Did that author grab and hold your attention? Did the illustrator do a good job of matching pictures to text? Did they make some glaring error or forget something? Did you want to turn those pages and find out what happens next?
Once in a while, read something that's not what you normally enjoy reading. Is there anything that author culd have done differently to perk up your interest? Especially in classrooms or educational settings, there will be times when kids have to read books or material they are not so interested in. You know what I'm talking about. Find ways to perk up subjects that can easily turn dry to an unmotivated reader. You won't be able to interest every reader every time, but at least we can attempt to make a chore not quite so tiresome for them.
Write/Draw Every Day If you've got a current project, you'll automatically be doing this. But if you're in-between projects, go write and draw anyway. Writers can journal. Maybe at yesterday's little league game there was a scuffle between the parents and the coaches. Or maybe a friend got some unexpected great news. Try writing accounts of these incidents. See if you can capture the heat and energy of the argument, or the joy and elation of your friend. Try writing from the different points of view. Especially if you strongly agree with one side of that argument, try writing a passionate rebuttal from the opposing side. That is an eye-opening exercise!
Artists, get out of the studio and go do some live sketching at the park, on main street, maybe the zoo. If the weather's bad, go indoors to a mall, a cafe, the airport. Quick, live sketching on the fly will have a tremendous effect on your work. I can't really describe it ... you'll just have to try it and see.
Know and Use Your Tools Correctly Attention, writers: You may have the best story ideas in the history of mankind. Maybe there's a novel inside of you waiting to be written that will bring the world to it's knees. But if you can't spell and you don't understand grammar rules or how to use punctuation correctly, don't waste your time writing it, because the rest of us don't want to read it. Nobody knows it all. Everyone makes an occasional typo. There's no shame in perhaps not knowing exactly which tense to use, or where to use a colon instead of a semicolon. The shame is in being too lazy to go find out how to do it right. Especially in today's world where the answer to any grammar question is a simple click away. When a manuscript is filled wall-to-wall with glaring errors it's laborsome to read and shouts to everyone that the author is an amateur. It will not be taken seriously and no publisher will waste their time reading it. Take a class, use spellcheck, hire an editor ... learn how to do it correctly. Please!
Do take writing courses, but the very best course you will ever take is to read, read, read. A good reading habit will give you that inner ear to know how to write well. Then write, write, write. Check your work by reading your written material out loud, or listen while someone else reads it out loud to you. Awkward passages will jump out and you will hear where adjustments need to be made.
Artists need to always be practicing and learning more about their chosen medium and to hone their skills. Take a class. Get on YouTube and watch other artists work. If they work differently from you, try their approach. It will prevent you from falling into a stale routine and will keep your art looking fresh.
Observe Your World This is what the Grand Illusion articles were alluding to. It applies to writers as well as artists. You won't be writing and drawing every moment of your day. But when you're not in the studio or tapping away at the keyboard, pay attention to what's going on. Pay attention to life. Watch and listen ... how do people interact with each other? What kind of gestures and mannerisms do they use or have? How do the birds and the squirrels move? If you had to draw a street scene, how would you plan it out? Could a reader visualize a street scene that you have described in a few paragraphs? Could you render sunlight in a girl's hair or across a grassy park?
Remember a couple of weeks ago we talked about that magician making his tricks look so effortless?
That's because - just like us - in the days and weeks prior he's been practicing and trying this and trying that. He's been studying his own favorite tool: the laws of physics. He uses those laws to help him make an illusion that will look like something real. He knows what that is, because he's been studying the real world and he knows how things are supposed to look.
Of course the audience knows it's not real. But it's impossible to tell his fake reality from the real thing. He's a master of illusion.
And so are we ... masters of illusion.
Ask any child - indeed, any reader - immersed in a book, lost in another world with magical characters and wondrous events ... is it real?
If we've done our job, it might be impossible to tell!