The children’s writing world is full of opportunities for you to experiment and practice the craft of writing – to ‘sharpen the pencil’ as I wrote about last month (here).
It helps, firstly, if you have a way to find out about the opportunities. Being linked in to the writing community is imperative. Writer’s centres, online websites (like Just Write For Kids Blog; Creative Kids Tales etc) Facebook groups (JWFK, Australian Picture Books Authors and Illustrators etc), industry associations (ASA, CBCA, SCBWI), critique groups and the like are valuable sources of information. However, industry newsletters (PIO and BuzzWords) provide a one stop shop for all opportunities (both for competitions and publishing) and are rich with other helpful ‘insider’ information. They sometimes also provide opportunities in themselves!
I find that writing for a purpose and having a deadline are good motivators for me to keep writing. So I like to take advantage of competitions and opportunities. I used to just enter those that give feedback – if I’m truthful, I think this was a way to protect my delicate ego (“I don’t expect to win but the feedback is invaluable”) and while both these things are true, I have since found that sending things out a bit more indiscriminately produces its own reward – like allowing me to experiment – and I am often surprised with where it leads.
A recent example: Buzz Words newsletter is running a simple competition about writing a paragraph beginning “I was twelve when…” The prize is a bunch of kids books (a good prize for children’s writers because reading current books is also essential for developing our own craft). I ‘knocked something up’ (it wasn’t too hard or time consuming) and submitted it – totally unrelated to anything I am currently working on – totally out of no-where. The interesting thing is, I became intrigued with the characters and ideas, and so when I came across a call-out for contributions to the latest Prints Charming anthologies (again in an industry newsletter) I found the perfect impetus to continue writing and placement for my story (It’s a magical story about a unicorn, in case you were wondering – but with a darker side!). It doesn’t matter how I go in the Buzz Words Competition – I’m already a winner with an idea and an outlet!
The other reward is that the more you enter – no matter how small (sometimes small is better) – the greater your chance of having something published. Another example: one of the aforementioned newsletters advertised that Positive Words magazine was looking for ‘fillers’ (small snippets to ‘fill in the gaps’ between longer stories). I sent in an eight word story (yes, that’s right – just 8 words!) and – voila! my name is in print!!
Having something published makes you ‘feel’ more like a writer and so, a. you want to write more, and b. you have something to put on your resume (and boast about). And the more you write, the better you get at it. Win, win, win! So what are you waiting for??