Where Do I Begin? | Guest Post by Papa J (Josh) Funk

So, you have an idea for a children’s story. You even stay up late one night clacking away on your laptop in bed while your wife is trying to sleep. When you read that first draft to the kids the next morning, you realize it isn’t half bad. You even begin to think that it’s better than some of the things your kids bring home from the library. But you don’t have a Masters degree in children’s literature. You’re a teacher/librarian/firefighter/software engineer/hostage negotiator/something else. What do you do now?

The internet is overflowing with resources about writing and publishing books for kids (see the Writers’ Rumpus Resource Page), but those resources can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to begin. And while my introduction to the kidlit world may not be the perfect course for everyone, these are some things that worked for me over the last two years since that fateful night I kept Mama Funk awake while writing the first draft of a terrible manuscript that no one will ever see.

While some people might say the first thing you should do is join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), I recommend saving that for Step #2. First, look around locally. Is there a critique group open to the public in your area? Perhaps there is a local writing community nearby, such as The Writers’ Loft or The Writing Barn. Check if any nearby towns offer Adult Education courses in writing, especially for kids.

I was lucky enough to find Mama Funk found an adult education class at my town’s local high school taught by an experienced, published author of both picture books and children’s novels. I brought my first manuscript (I learned that unpublished books are called manuscripts) and shared it with the class. It was nerve-wracking watching everyone mark up my story that first time. And I learned I had a lot of work to do (maybe it was more than half bad). But as some other Rumpus Writers have noted, the kidlit world is a very welcoming community.  I felt more encouragement after that class than any other emotion.

It’s through this adult ed class that I first heard about SCBWI – which I previously mentioned is the second thing you should do. Join. Go to some local events. Join the email lists. Attend a regional convention. Maybe some people from your local writing community/critique group/adult ed class from Step #1 will join (or even lead) you.

Six months after my first writing class, I attended a single day of my region’s three-day convention. Within an hour of entering the hotel, I knew I’d be signing up for the whole weekend the following year. Not only did I meet dozens of wonderful writers and illustrators, but I absorbed an abundance of knowledge and was exposed to facets of the kidlit industry I’d never previously considered. But by this time, I was ready.

And you’ll be ready, too. You’ll know your goals are attainable. You’ll have a firm grasp on when and how to use those resources that once seemed so overwhelming.

And if you’re anything like me, you’ll volunteer at the following year’s regional convention, prepare to send out manuscripts, start your own critique groups, start your own website/blog/Facebook page/Twitter account, have taken courses from celebrity authors, and even be Facebook friends with others. Maybe you’ll even be asked to guest post on a legitimate writing website. Thanks, Writers’ Rumpus, for this opportunity.

And thank you for reading. Now get clackin’!

Update: Read more from Josh on getting started at Some Things I’ve Learned on Blogging Funk

20 comments

  1. Nice post, Papa J! Great advice. It’s so hard to know how to break into the world of critique groups and learning to write!

    My husband has convinced me that I need to bring my typewriter (that husband gifted to me, of course) to the Writers’ Loft. Now everyone can take turns clacking away! (Thanks for the shout-out!)

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  2. Hey, Papa J, are you sure that you’re not secretly using a typewriter? I mean, “clackin'”? Aren’t we lucky to have Word and laptops, making editing and changes so fluid and easy.
    Good mental image of the glow of your screen late at night while you work.

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    1. The keyboard on my laptop clacks plenty loud! Not quite as loud as my daughter’s typewriter, however, which she uses when she has to really focus–because unlike her laptop, the typewriter can’t possibly go online!

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    2. Wow. She is the only person I’ve heard of who does still use a typewriter. Good for her. My husband’s solution to the getting totally offline is that he has an old laptop that isn’t connected. Too bad we all have to worry about viruses, etc.

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  3. Legitimate writing website? Us? Wow, who’da thunk it? 😉 Thanks for visiting, Papa J, and for sharing your advice on where to begin. It can be overwhelming when you’re just starting out.
    Thanks also for the correct use of “wracking” rather than “racking.”

    Like

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