Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Do You Write for Children?

So I found myself chatting with my neighbor lady the other day, who is a very awesome, nearly 90-year-old (and the only grandma in my little, rural Midwestern town who wears a nose ring) and she asked me a question. First, she asked what I was doing with myself now that my youngest child started kindergarten. Somehow, in all our conversations, it never came up that I’m a writer. So, when I said I was working on a book, she quite innocently followed up with, “Oh, do you write for children?”

And while that blood vessel behind my right eye went all twitchy, I smiled pleasantly and said I did not. “I write for adults.” Blank stare. Then, fearing she might think I write for adults, as in XXXADULTS, I backpedalled. “I write fiction, for grown-ups, you know, novels and also, stories, and also sometimes essays, non-fiction in that case, plus the occasional poem.” She looked unconvinced, and I babbled more incoherently, wondering if I should just go into the house and get my CV. “Did you know I had a poem on all the buses in Cleveland?” (This is true, but is also the equivalent of waving a bright, shiny, distracting object in front of her face. Ohhh, what’s this? Pretty! Pretty! What were we talking about?)

There are so many, many questions you should not ask writers (e.g. What do you do all day? When will you be on the best-seller list? Don’t you agree print is a dying form?) But for the love of Jehovah, do NOT ask a female writer if she writes for children. You know why? Because nobody asks a male writer this. For a male writer to be asked this question, I believe he would have to be strapped, front and back, with a Baby Bjorn and even then, the asker might assume that if he’s a writer, oh he must be a serious journalist covering workplace equality.

Because underlying this question is the assumption that a mother couldn’t possibly know about anything beyond children. The asker forgets that writers, especially the fiction-y kind, make ample use of something called an imagination. The assumption is also that writing for children is easy, so easy that even a woman--even one with other things on her mind like caring for children, or, I don't know,vacuuming the drapes in a dress and high heels and wondering when Ward is going to come home from work, and whether the pot roast is going to be too tough--can do it.

What I should have said to my neighbor, what is the actual truth and something I think most writers understand, but many non-writers, especially non-parents, might not get, is this: I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO WRITE FOR CHILDREN!
I bow down before the masters who are capable of winning over the most discerning of audiences—kids! They are honest little buggers. If they don’t like something, they toss it aside. I’ve tried scratching out a couple picture books, and have put them back in the drawer, returning to my novel-in-progress, which, at a likely 300 pages full of plot twists, is actually easier to write than a 100-word rhyming book. Try it!

It’s one of those things everyone thinks they could do, but it is so very, very hard to do it well. Marketers take advantage of this. There are ads in all the kids’ magazines. Take this writing test! Do you have what it takes to send us $29.95 for our writing course??? On a related note, could your artwork be on display at the Louvre? Draw this turtle to find out! For now, I’m sticking to grown-up fiction, but someday, if I get really, really good, maybe I’ll try and write for kids.

p.s. I know I haven’t blogged in months, so apologize for getting back on the bandwagon by jumping on my soapbox, to mix a few metaphors. Pretty pictures of an awesome DIY coming next.

p.p.s. Check out the Clarice Bean series by Lauren Child. Love, love, love, this author’s voice so much that when my daughter fell asleep, I kept right on reading. And if you have kids and haven’t read every single Magic Tree House, then what the hell is wrong with you?