ReVISIONS or How I Learned to Write for Kids

This is the story of my journey to become a writer of children’s books. Why was it so hard? I had a long career as a scientist. I had written > 100 scholarly papers and successful grant proposals worth millions of dollars; I’d edited a book still listed on Amazon.

What I discovered is writing for kids is a completely different animal.

After retiring from my position as Undersecretary for Science at the Smithsonian, I was a bit at loose ends. My grandson and I had invented a game called ResQ. From his sofa, we traveled the world rescuing endangered species. My daughter said, “You don’t have to stop playing games, but you would empower more kids if you wrote these stories down.” What a great idea. But how to start? A friend suggested I join a local writer’s group.

At the first meeting I brought a writing sample. The group had diverse interests— YA, middle grade, picture books, sermons for children. The members were kind, but the message was clear: “You know how to write…but not for kids.”

That was a blow. At our monthly meetings I received lots of critiques about character development; lack of description; need for more emotion; show don’t tell.

I would go home feeling frustrated—these guys didn’t understand what I was trying to do; maybe I should quit the group. That is when I invoked my “put it in the middle drawer” rule. Over the years I received many critiques of manuscript I had submitted for publication. Sometimes they were harsh. After a quick look, I would put them in my desk for one week. When I took out the reviews, I could see that they were 90% right. With my sleeves rolled up, I would tear into the manuscript, addressing the issues, making my paper better. That strategy worked equally well with this new project.

I tackled my manuscript chapter by chapter. Some of the issues were specific—enrich a description, or clarify the voice. There were bigger issues, like my detailed scientific expositions. A few group members said they were distracting. Didn’t everyone think these descriptions were “the bomb”? After dusting myself off, I reflected a bit. What if there was a reason one of my protagonists had to write a log describing her experiences? I could park the factual aspects of my story there, while extracting them from the flow of the adventure. This addition turned out to be a great development for my book.

It has taken almost five years from the day I first joined the Writers 4 Kids group in January 2015. I have had the additional benefit of a professional editor, and my superb publisher (Tumblehome)/editor. On September 14, 2019 we launched ResQ and the Baby Orangutan. It has been a journey with lots of self-doubt, and even more rewriting. At the end of the day it was all worthwhile, as the first books made their way into the hands of eager children.

**This essay is part of an exhibit on revision intended to share with children the message that writing is hard work. The exhibit will appear at the John Hermann Museum in Bellevue, PA—Greater Pittsburgh from November 1, 2019 – January 2, 2020.

– Written by Eva J. Pell

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