Children's Author
Young Adult Novelist

Michelle D. Kwasney

Advice for Writers

We write for different reasons—personal enjoyment, catharsis, self-expression, stress reduction, publication—or maybe a combination of these. Knowing what you hope to gain from the experience can help you make certain choices about how you approach your work.

Below are ten tips you might find helpful.

1. Find a place that puts you in the mood to write. It doesn’t matter where—at the kitchen table, on a bench beneath a flowering tree, in your favorite comfy chair. What matters is that when you go to that designated place your brain responds by wanting to have fun with words.

2. Lend a few details to encourage your senses—a particular piece of music or a scented candle, perhaps. I put a CD on continuous play—on low volume, so I am barely aware of it. Writers are a quirky lot. Experiment. Find what works for you.

3. Have your writing tools handy. If you have to dig for materials, you might never begin. And don’t be fooled into thinking you need something snappy like a laptop or software designed for writers to get started. (I write all of my first drafts longhand in pencil, using whatever paper I have handy.) Later, when you are ready to polish your work—and to send it off to a publisher, if that’s the route you choose—then you can invest in your word-processing tool of choice. But never let the absence of one keep you from starting.

4. Read, read, read. The more you read, the better you’ll write. Promise. Become especially well-read in the genre in which you hope to write. Whether you’re an aspiring picture book writer, a hopeful young adult novelist, or are crafting a memoir, be aware of what’s being published.

5. Join a writer’s group. The size of the group doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that you are friends with one another—after all, it’s not a social gathering. The time spent with your writers’ group should strengthen your skills as a writer and a reader. If that doesn’t happen, you haven’t found the right group. When forming an in-person critique group, plan on spending your first session determining how your time will be structured. How often will you meet, and for how long? Where will you gather—in group members’ homes, or in a public place like a community center or a Starbucks? Who will facilitate your group, or will the job be shared among you? Will writers distribute copies of work to be critiqued, or read their pieces aloud? And how many critiques will be offered during each meeting? After two or three hours of concentration, even the most coherent group will lose focus and become “droopy.” If “face-to-face” groups don’t work for you, give online critiquing a try. Or mail work back and forth with other writers you network with.

6. Check out the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators website if you write for kids or teens. Open to both published and unpublished writers and illustrators, SCBWI is the only professional organization designed to specifically address the needs and concerns of those crafting stories for young people. And there are local chapters in your area!

7. Study How-To books. Many wonderful resources exist to guide you in your writing pursuits. While many strive to provide inspiration, others can help you strengthen your work and learn the basics of writing such as character development and plotting. Still others walk you through the process of preparing your work for submission. Always comply with the industry standards recommended. The road to publication is challenging and competitive, and doing your homework could give your submission an edge.

8. Take writing classes, attend workshops and conferences. Show up at readings. Spend time at your local library or hometown bookstore. The more you feed the writer in you, the stronger your work will become.

9. Carry a small notebook (or other recording device) with you at all times. Use it to note names, phrases, or incidents that intrigue you. If you’re writing for a particular age group—teens, for example—keep a careful ear tuned to dialog. It’s important to be familiar with the speech characteristics of the audience you are writing for.

10. Switch gears if a piece you’re working on gets “stuck.” Writing is an organic process—your mind needs time to mull things over and process information. Work on another project or jot thoughts in a journal. Go for a walk and have an imaginary conversation with a problematic character. Watch Book TV or kick back with a favorite novel. Time spent enjoying language is never wasted. It all feeds the muse.

To view a list of Links & Resources for writers, click here.