Is it easier to write for children?

When I decided to try and make a career of writing in my early forties my first stumbling block was that I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be. I’d written a number of adult novels in my teens and early twenties, and sent a sample of the last one to six big publishers, four of whom had asked to see the whole MS. They all went on to send me encouraging letters of rejection, the concensus being that my book was too ‘experimental.’

Royal Jelly - too experimental!
Royal Jelly – too experimental!

Like lots of writers dipping their toe in the market for the first time, I didn’t notice the encouragement, or indeed clock what a good sign it was that four out of six major publishers wanted to read my whole manuscript. I took the fact that they’d all rejected it as a sign that I wasn’t good enough.

In the long gap between those early novels and my decision to try and be an author, I’d also discovered a great enthusiasm for children’s books through reading billions of them to my own children. So I wrote an adult novel, a whodunnit and several children’s stories and sent them to several agents.

letter

The agent who took me on said she thought I could be published as both an adults’ and a children’s author, but advised me to start with children’s stories. She stressed that it wasn’t easier to write for children but, purely because of the much shorter length, it was quicker. I might spend five years writing an adult book and then not find a publisher, which would be crushing, whereas I could do a lot of children’s stories in that time and, even if I got rejections, I might well still hit the market quicker.

I was happy with that. Writing shorter pieces was easier to fit into my daily routine of grabbing a few hours to write in the mornings when all the children were at school or playgroup. I enjoyed it hugely, but I assumed it was a phase – I thought the reason I could write children’s stories was because I had children at home, so I was kind of in the zone. When they grew up, my writing would surely grow up too.

But since my children have flown the nest, I’ve discovered that there’s this lively ten-year-old in me, and she’s the one I’ve been writing for all along. She’s both my reader and my protagonist, and she loves funny stories, with lots of action and chaos.

I don’t think it’s outer circumstances that make a children’s writer, but what’s inside. If you haven’t got that vocal, living inner child demanding and driving your story, you’ll get the voice wrong, you’ll speak down as your adult self and your readers won’t connect with what you’ve written.

In that case, I’d say personally that it would be easier to write for adults.

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13 thoughts on “Is it easier to write for children?”

  1. It’s definitely quicker, which suits my attention span. I have a virtual desktop littered with half-started adult novels, and a bookshelf with 78 printed and bound children’s books!

    I’ve recently started writing a YA novel which has already become a tween novel and so might just get finished if it’s really, really lucky.

    1. That’s my desktop and bookshelves too. I love the feeling of having all those half-started projects, simply bursting with potential. It makes me feel like lots of writers, like one of those Russian dolls!

  2. You’re so right – I really believe you have to be a child at heart to be able to write for children. You also need to be able to remember what it felt like don’t you? Probably, like me, Jenny, you have a lot of childhood memories. I remember so many details from my childhood, that even when I’m writing for adults, I often find I have child / teenage protagonists. I certainly don’t think it’s easier to write for children, in fact, I have found writing picture books harder than any other genre as they have to be so specific, original, and say so much in so few words. However, as you say, you can deal with children’s books in smaller chunks can’t you, so they don’t monopolise your time quite as much as an adult novel. Oh look at me…. talk about jabbering on! Another lovely post, Jenny.

  3. Thank you, Abi! That’s such an interesting point about memories. I guess we all assume everyone’s the same as ourselves until we find out different and, as someone whose memories go vividly back to the pram, it didn’t really occur to me that other people might have a very much more patchy recollection of childhood until I talked about it with friends and family. I guess the same goes for the emotion of childhood – how it felt to be a child – I very vividly remember that, but I’ve discovered that not everybody does.

  4. Such an interesting post, Jenny! My last book was for adults, but I also write for children and teens, and my take is that it’s ALL hard! But very satisfying, too, of course. I also really like what you say about the 10 year old inside you. I think that part of why I write for different audiences is because I am writing for different parts of myself.

    1. Writing for different parts of oneself – yes, that’s it for me, too. And as the years go by, there are so many parts to write for!

  5. Some of the best writers for children didn’t have or don’t have children. Strangely, I found it easier to write my books for children when I didn’t have kids of my own (although that is probably more down to time and energy levels!)

  6. I’ve found that too, Lucy. I felt when my children were young I really only had the time and energy to learn the craft and business of writing, where now I can give my writer self my full attention, and write to delight all my inner selves.

  7. I read, read and read to my children (‘read’ in the past tense as both are now seriously adult). I loved reading aloud – I still do – but I found myself at the same time enjoying the books and critical of them.
    Now, having had around twenty five children’s books published, I still find writing incredibly difficult, but in the end, incredibly satisfying, and full of surprises. Picture books are often the most demanding – they have to be perfect, like haikus.

  8. Hi Enid – that’s another big part of it, reading aloud. Like you, I loved reading to my children, and I read everything I write out loud a number of times, to savour and test the flow.

  9. You’re right, Jenny – definitely not easier! And sometimes not even quicker. My average words-per-day rate for picture books is probably about three! My childhood memories are patchy; I’m looking forward to that time that old people describe when they can remember their early years with absolute clarity

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