A few years ago I contacted some of my favourite children’s authors. I asked them: What advice would you give to young writers?
Here are their responses.
1. Heather Vogel Frederick (author of the Spy Mice books)
Number one most important thing: READ. Read as much as and as widely as you can. Soak up the language, the tempo of the best stories. Like a musician listening to the best music, reading wonderful books will influence the way you play your instrument – or in a writer’s case, the way you write.
2. Philip Caveney (author of the Sebastian Darke books)
Keep asking yourself “what if” – and make sure we see the events through the eyes of your characters.
3. Andy Stanton (author of the Mr Gum stories)
Edit! Go back and edit your stories to improve them. But not immediately – put your story away for a couple of weeks or a month. Don’t think about your story. After that time, take out your story and have another look, and because you haven’t been worrying about it for all that time, you’ll be able to see with much clearer eye what needs to be done to improve it.
Other advice: if a scene isn’t working, try approaching it in a different way. Perhaps tell it from another character’s perspective or something. Just keep writing – and never throw anything away, even the most rubish bit of writing may contain something you can use at another time.
4. Anne Fine (the second Children’s Laureate)
Read, read, read. Then sit down and write the book you’d most like to read but no-one has written for you. And if all that planning and ‘wow words’ and connectives stuff you have to do at school (‘writing by numbers’) gets on your nerves, do it at home, the way you enjoy doing it.
5. Malorie Blackman (the eighth Children’s Laureate and author of Noughts and Crosses)
Write from the heart; write what you care about; write your own style and in your own voice (don’t copy someone else’s style but make it your own). And most importantly, don’t give up!
6. Andrew Lane (author of the Young Sherlock Holmes books)
Firstly, write a lot. Write every day. Write lots of different stuff. Write a diary. It’s all good practice.
Secondly, read a lot – and the trick is to read things that are bad as well as things that are good. You can learn a lot more from reading something bad because it’s easier to work out why it’s bad than it is to work out why something is good (and also you can use it as motivation by telling yourself that you can do better).
Thirdly, you need to realise that stories about things happening are much less interesting than stories about why things are happening.
7. Alex Scarrow (author of the TimeRiders series)
Make sure you have an ending in mind before you start. That way your story has a direction of travel to help you pull through.
8. Cressida Cowell (author of How To Train Your Dragon)
I would advise them to READ a lot, as widely as they can. Reading widely teaches you different ways to tell a story.
9. Philip Reeve (author of Mortal Engines)
When you finish the story that you are writing, go back to the beginning and write it again, better!
10. Pat Walsh (author of the Crowfield series)
First of all, to be a good writer, you have to read, read and read! You will get a feel for words, how they are used, the ideas they can convey. And then, you should write as often as you can; try for a little everyday.
Don’t copy books or writers you enjoy reading, but try and find your own way of saying things and telling a story. Don’t try to be the next J.K. Rowling, be the first you! Tell the stories inside you – and most of all, enjoy your writing.
11. Kieran Larwood (author of Freaks)
Don’t be afraid of re-writing. Put your work away for a couple of months and then come back to it with fresh eyes – keep the good bits and rework the rest.
And the most important thing: read as much as possible.
12. William Nicholson (author of the Wind Singer)
Your characters matter more than your plot. Think hard about them – what they want, what their odd habits are, how they talk. If necessary copy someone you know. If your characters have life, your story will live.