Often, when I’m writing, I find myself stopping at a word or phrase and thinking, wait, would a kid say that? Would a kid think that? Since authors who write for kids obviously aren’t kids, how do you make sure that your words and phrases ring true? In other words (lol), how do you get yourself in kid mode while writing for kids?
What better place to turn than to the pros? The following quotes are taken from the authors’ websites or interviews.
“It’s not hard for me to think like a kid because…well…the eight-year old Kate inside me is still very much hanging around. I write about catching frogs and getting muddy, about playing in the snow, tracking animals, and imagining playful sea monsters taking on the neighborhood fish in a game of Marco Polo because I still love all those things, just as much as I did when I was little. That’s really at the heart of writer’s inspiration for me…thinking like the kid I was…and like the kid I still am inside.” — KATE MESSNER
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a grown-up who is as mature on the inside as he or she appears to be on the outside. Learning to behave like an adult makes the world a more socialized place. But even if we don’t admit it, sometimes adults still feel nervous, and scared, and embarrassed, and even just plain silly. Personally, just because I don’t lean over and tickle the person next to me at a business meeting, doesn’t mean that I never have the urge!” — BARBARA PARK
“I’m very lucky to write for children, because I don’t have to deal with popular culture. I can just deal with core fundamental issues: jealousy, love, hatred, sadness, joy, wanting to drive a bus. The fundamental core emotional things. And just asking questions like, ‘What is a friend?’ and ‘What are relationships between people?’ Those are all things that I haven’t figured out yet. I’m very lucky in that I don’t understand the world yet. If I understood the world, it would be harder for me to write these books.” — MO WILLEMS
“I visit lots of schools. I talk with thousands of kids. I have a good handle on what kids want to read or don’t want to read.” — DAN GUTMAN
“I still draw heavily from my own life in my books, but at least now I change the names.” — CLAUDIA MILLS
Sometimes, authors say, it’s not so much about thinking like a kid, but tapping into your kid-like imagination, putting aside those often heavily-weighing adult responsibilities while you’re writing.
“I love writing novels because I can let my imagination run wild… That’s what writers do. They put little pieces of themselves into their stories — and sometimes their stories take place right in their heart’s home.” — BARBARA O’CONNOR
“My best work comes when I am in the writing — deep in the characters and walking around in their world.” — LINDA URBAN
“Open yourself to the numinous, to the shapes and shades of language, to that first powerful thrust of story, the character that develops away from you (sort of like a wayward adolescent), to the surprise of the exact and perfect ending.” — JANE YOLEN
And from Andrew Clements, perhaps the best advice: comparing the very act of writing for children like growing up itself.
“Sometimes kids ask how I’ve been able to write so many books. The answer is simple: one word at a time. Which is a good lesson, I think. You don’t have to do everything at once. You don’t have to know how every story is going to end. You just have to take that next step, look for the next idea, write that next word. And growing up, it’s the same way. We just have to go to that next class, read that next chapter, help that next person. You simply have to do that next good thing, and before you know it, you’re living a good life.” — ANDREW CLEMENTS
I’ll have to remember all this sage advice the next time I’m asking myself ‘would a kid say that?’ And, I’ll just close my eyes and remember the feeling of swinging high in the air on a beautiful summer day with no worries in the world.
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011) and The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books, coming April 2014). micheleweberhurwitz.com is where you can find her adult writer self.