Writing is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger and better it becomes. And when you spend time training it and pushing it to its full potential, the better the results will be. You may have just started out on the writing road, or you may have been writing for some time. Perhaps you feel a little disillusioned that success has not been as forthcoming as it might have been. Or perhaps you would just like to challenge yourself to make your writing (and you as a writer), even better.
Here are five practical things you can do to help improve your writing.
- Visit schools
If you have had a book published (traditionally or independently), try contacting a few local schools to see if anyone would be interested in a school visit, virtually or in-person (depending on whether we happen to have a global pandemic at the time or not).
Spending time with your readers (or potential readers) is invaluable. As you read or interact with the children, take note of the things that get them excited. What went down particularly well? When did their interest start to wane? What comments did they make? When did they laugh? How can you use this information to make your next book even better and more appealing to these readers?
Visiting schools may well be out of your comfort zone. A lot of authors are quite happy behind a notebook or laptop, but less happy performing in front of a group of people. The good news is, like many things, the more you do it, the easier it gets! I was terrified about my first school visit (an invitation to a pre-school with my first picture book) and actually put it off for ages. When I had finally run out of delaying tactics, I agreed to go in. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Now I regularly undertake (and enjoy!) school visits.
If you do step outside your comfort zone, encourage and reward yourself. Not only will it help you in your writing career, but it can help you develop personally and grow in confidence. If you decide or discover that school visits really aren’t for you, that’s absolutely fine. You don’t have to do them. There’s plenty of other ways you can grow as a writer.
Should you charge for a visit? It probably depends on the situation. Ideally, every author should be paid for every visit they do (visit www.societyofauthors.org for information, under the ‘Resources’ tab). However, in reality, schools are always tight on budget and can be quite cagey with the way it is spent.
If you have just started your writing career, it wouldn’t do any harm to offer a visit for free. You will gain a wealth of experience from the event. You can always describe an unpaid visit as a special offer – such as undertaking free author visits for a limited time or to tie in with an event like ‘Tell A Fairy Tale Day’. This then implies that the norm would be a fee, and leaves the door open for subsequent paid visits.
Similarly, if you have a new book, it is acceptable to do some free visits to promote your book. You could describe it as a free promotional book tour (which sounds rather satisfying) to celebrate the launch of your book.
Online visits are a possibility at this time, when visiting schools in person is not really an option. You may wish to organise shorter sessions at a lower cost, and make sure they are engaging and interactive as possible.
2. Visit libraries
Another brilliant (and simple) way of growing as a writer is by visiting the children’s section at the library, when libraries are open! This is wonderful news: it means you’re officially allowed to submerge yourself with books! Ask the librarians about any new releases. Or spend time looking at books in the age range or genre you’re interested in.
Looking at other people’s books can be a valuable source of inspiration so make sure you take a notebook and pen. Ask yourself questions like:
- Do you like the concept for this book or series? How does it feel fresh and original? Could you explain the concept in one sentence? (This is always useful, and something agents and editors look for so they can pitch the book to other people). You could try writing down a one-line description of each book you look at.
- How effective are the opening lines and paragraphs of the book? Do they intrigue you as a reader and make you want to read on? How has the writer achieved this? Any particular words or phrases? How could you apply this technique to your own writing?
- Who is the main character of the book? Does the character feel original? If so, how?
- How do the chapters end? Do they make you want to read on to the next chapter? How has the writer achieved this? How can you apply this to your own work.
3. Get your work critiqued
Another way to grow is to ask somebody else to look at your work. Feedback from writing friends, groups or relatives can be helpful in the first instance. However, it can be hard for someone you know personally to be wholly honest or objective.
Critiques don’t come cheap and if you are paying for one, it should be undertaken by an experienced professional who is familiar with children’s fiction. You could ask for a critique (or money towards a critique) for a birthday, Christmas or other present.
It’s hard to be brave enough to send off your manuscript for feedback (and It’s perfectly natural to obsessively hit the send/receive button on your email once your manuscript has gone!). However, receiving professional feedback will do wonders for your work. You will find out where you are going right and also identify places where you could improve. This could save a lot of time at the submission stage and may increase your chances of success.
There are many different consultancy agencies or authors offering critiques. Here’s some to try:
Writing Magazine Critique Service – Writers Online (writers-online.co.uk)
Clare Helen Welsh Critique Service – Clare Helen Welsh (picture book only)
Lou Treleaven Critique Service – Lou Treleaven, children’s author
Cornerstones Literary Consultancy www.cornerstones.co.uk
Writers’ Advice Centre For Children’s Books www.writersadvice.co.uk
Jericho Writers Manuscript Assessment Services | Jericho Writers
Story Godmother: Charity critiques are also available as part of the Twitter #SummerWritingCheer and #WinterWritingCheer. All money raised is donated to charity.
4. Find a course or workshop
At least one positive thing to come out of 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic, is that there are many more workshops and courses available online. Here are some to check out:
Write Mentor: Online courses | #WriteMentor – for all writers of children’s fiction (write-mentor.com) Write Mentor also run WowCon – an online writing conference.
Lou Treleaven Writing course – Lou Treleaven, children’s author
Writing Magazine: Writing Courses – Writers Online (writers-online.co.uk) (You can request me as a tutor, depending on availability)
Story Godmother: Workshops – The Story Godmother I run various different workshops and courses through the year, from Advanced Picture Book Writing courses, to Writing Funny Books workshops, or Writing Fabulous Villains mini-courses.
5. Find your tribe
As well as online communities, there are other regional or local writing groups you could join. Don’t underestimate the benefit of such a group. It can be a wonderful source of support and encouragement – a place to share an idea, obtain feedback, find inspiration and, very importantly, the motivation to keep going.
The SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) also run writing groups and critique groups at regional level. To find out more, visit: SCBWI
By challenging yourself and exploring new avenues, you will become a stronger and better writer. Be inspired and be bold – hopefully your career will thank you for it.