Why I write for kids

There’s a myriad of reasons; I’ll try to boil it down to three.

  • C.S. Lewis. Roald Dahl. Arthur Ransome. L.M. Montgomery. Louisa May Alcott. These, and countless others, have stuck with me through all of life, and still shape largely how I look at the world. I read them all as a child, and they have never left me. I want to be the kind of writer who tells the stories that stick with a person from childhood on, who is able to write characters who become lifelong friends of a reader, and who tells truth in a way that shapes how they look at the world the rest of her life.
  • I had a childhood fraught with chaos and instability. Books and nature were my two places of safety. Books gave meaning to the chaos and held forth the promise that there’s a grand design to all of it leading to a happy ending. And nature gave me the landscape on which I invented my own stories and acted them out. I want to write the stories that reshape the chaos of my reader’s life, that give them a place to go for safety, just like I found when I was that age.
  • I believe that there is meaning in the chaos and suffering we all go through. The old adage, “everything happens for a reason,” is true. Our lives are stories. Not especially linear ones, and not all of them come to a happy conclusion, but the choices we make lend meaning to our lives. I want to convey that through my stories, to make that clear to my readers, so that they have the courage to face life’s pains and sorrows and know that there’s a design to it, if they’ll find it and follow it.

Because I work with so many kids who go through things they should never experience, these reasons stand out the most clearly to me. They drive everything I create.

First drafts

Some people may relish the blank page in front of them; I do not feel that way. There are very few moments when I’m writing a first draft that I feel like any of the words I am getting out are worth the effort of typing them into the keyboard.

But somehow, when the final word is typed and the draft is done, I can stand back and look at a … big, fat pile of steaming …

Raw material. Let’s call it raw material.

I actually am really drawn to that analogy of first draft as raw material. Getting those words out is like gather lumber for a project. You have a plan in mind — let’s say it’s bunk beds — and you’re getting ready to build it. So you go select the boards you need. You get your tools together. You find the right kinds of nails and screws. And when you’re ready, all the elements are there for a set of bunk beds, but that pile of boards and assortment of tools certainly doesn’t look anything like bunk beds now.

And neither does a first draft look anything like a finished story. All the elements are there — the main part of the plot, all the characters, the setting — but each of those needs to be cut to the right dimensions, to be nailed into place, to be sanded down and finished with a coat of stain.

So, now I approach drafting with that mentality. I’m just assembling the raw materials, right? Nothing is where it’s going to go, and I’ll probably make a few wrong cuts because I measured wrong and have to throw out a couple boards, but that’s all right. When I finally step back, I’ll be proud of what I’ve done, and it’ll hold weight.

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