What does it take to write a children’s story a day for a year?
I’m in the process of answering that very question.
In the current economic climate, getting your literary voice heard is increasingly difficult. Agents and editors are being culled at a brutal rate, fewer books are being acquired and publisher’s marketing budgets have been slashed. Whilst the children’s market is fairing considerably better than the adult market, given that purchases for children are the last thing that parents would consider cutting back on, publishers are nevertheless cautious about how they spend their limited cash. It if wasn’t difficult enough before the recession for budding writers to stick their head above the sand, now most are being buried by it. So what does it take to be noticed?
I write for children. I’ve always written for children. From a very early age I used any excuse at home or school to write stories. I loved the escapism not just in reading them but in writing them too. Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book you want to read that hasn’t been written yet, you have to write it.” I think about that comment every day. It saw me through my MLitt in Creative Writing here at St Andrews, and through to completion of my first children’s novel.
So it was on my recent trip to Los Angeles, to the annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference, that I came up with an idea. I’d been to see the film, ‘Julie and Julia’, which is about a woman who decides to cook every recipe from Julia Childs’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cookery’ in a year. The woman, Julie Powell, who’s an aspiring writer stuck in a job she hates, writes a blog about her experiences. Now, I don’t know whether my brain was addled with the sunshine, the margarita I drank, the smoke from the forest fires or that I’d blubbed like a baby through the entire movie, but I came out with an idea to write a short children’s story every day, for a year. Was I totally mad?
After consultation with fellow writer friends their enthusiasm encouraged me to go. I didn’t want the project to be just a random collection of stories, I wanted there to be some connection to the reality of completing it; some sense of the challenges trying to manage it against the distractions of daily life. In essence that is what most writers are faced with. We all have other jobs (unless you’re name is Dan Brown or J K Rowling). So I decided to keep two blogs running for the project. The story site called, The Imaginary Scrapbook
(http://imaginaryscrapbook.blogspot.com), hosts each story written, and reciprocally linked to that site is another blog site called, Notes from a Claustrophobic Agoraphobe
(http://araggedandfunny.blogspot.com). This is my running commentary blog site where I talk about where my ideas have come from, any problems I have faced and how I have overcome them to keep the project on track.
One thing I’m being asked though is how I’m going to come up with ideas for 365 stories. The truth is it’s not so much about getting the ideas it’s getting ones that translate into a children’s story. It has to be something children can relate to; something they are in some way familiar with. I could think up a million ideas for stories but only a small percentage would work for children. So it helps that I have a quirky imagination and a thirst for the surreally funny.
Both blogs are now live. I launched them on 1st September 2009, whilst I was still in Los Angeles, and have managed to stick to my deadlines. I don’t limit myself to a word count as I feel it stifles my creativity. I’ll write the story as long as it’s supposed to be. I also don’t limit myself to genre. So far I’ve written fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, fable, drama, family, adventure, humour, tragedy, historical and literary stories. And where I write doesn’t matter either. Although I favour the atmosphere (and continual supply of coffee) of Starbucks I did write my third story on the plane back from LA. Whilst all the other passengers were tucked up asleep as we flew across the Atlantic there was me with my little night light on, tapping away at my netbook. There’s dedication for ya!