Dr. Toughlove’s Tips for Young Writers
Very often when I visit schools and read aloud to students, there is a question and answer period. I am always amazed by the perceptive, insightful questions the students ask. One of the ones that invariably comes up is “How long did it take you to write Jamal and Me?” or “How do you become an author?”
In answer to the first question above, I started working on Jamal and Me in 2008, but really got serious about publication in 2017. In response to the second question, I counter with the question “Do you put your thoughts down on paper or on a computer? If you do you are an author!” Many of the students start beaming with pride.
In response to the “how do you become an author?” question, I thought I would create a list of my thoughts and advice to young writers. Here goes:
1. Write about something you know about and/or are passionate about. Jamal and Me is loosely based on experiences I had as a school administrator. If you love dolphins, write about dolphins, if you love the antics you and your siblings get into, write about that.
2. Don’t worry about spelling and punctuation when you begin writing. Teachers – please don’t roll your eyes! What I’m saying here is that I want to encourage kids to write freely and expressively, knowing that at some point (or maybe not) spelling and punctuation errors will be addressed. In a first draft, errors are OK.
3. Be prepared to revise your work MANY TIMES! I wish I had kept count of how many revisions I made to Jamal and Me. I can tell you with certainty that the number was under one hundred, but not by much.
4. Ask other people to read your work. It is important to listen to suggestions. No one person can think of everything, so keep your mind open to the opinions of others.
5. If you like to draw, don’t hesitate to include illustrations. Pictures really do help to enhance your message.
6. If you are concerned that you can’t spell every word perfectly, you might get some inspiration from the book A Squilly Story by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery. This wonderful book encourages young writers to use inventive spelling to tell their stories.
7. If you want to laugh out loud and be inspired to be a writer, read The Author Visit from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler.
8. If you would like to send me a piece of writing, I’d be happy to read it. Have a grown up send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your name.
9. Most importantly, have fun. Writing is a journey, and there may be bumps along the way. But when you publish your story, you will be filled with pride and excitement!