As a teacher turned author, I often get asked by people working in schools how I started writing, how I find the time and for advice about taking the plunge.
Below are some things I do and have done, which might also help you get your project off the ground. It’s not exhaustive! So please feel free to share others in the comments.
It’s worth bearing in mind, by the way, that many of these ideas are not specific only to teaching. If you’ve got an idea for a book and the determination to make it happen, these top tips might be the inspiration you need!
- Make the most out of your school library: Read, read, read! Read all the books in the school library! Type up bits of your favourite ones to analyse how the writer has achieved tension, humour, emotion or something else. Consider what catches children’s eyes (A title, a cover, a character) . This will help you understand what children are looking for.
- Keep a list of anything you can’t get hold of: A narrative non-fiction, a poem on a particular theme, a story linked to a certain event or topic… There could be a gap in the market and you could be the writer to write it!
- Keep a diary or sketchbook: Working in a school will have given you a whole load of interesting, hilarious and cringe-worthy memories that will make for perfect book material. I have a list on my phone of character names, things children say, stories people tell me… It’s an invaluable source of material and sometimes all the inspiration I need!
- Run a lunchtime or after-school reading club: Don’t get me wrong, sometimes its the last thing I feel like doing… but most days I find myself wishing we had more time! We read, review and share books and this gives me a clear idea of what children love. I read the books the children talk about and chat with them about their choices. Its one of the most popular clubs in our school. Your passion and enjoyment of books will surely show. What a role-model!
- Run a lunchtime or after-school writing club: A child’s imagination is a thing to behold. Their stories have no limits and no rules. 20 minutes free writing like this a week can help you unpick a plot hole or just relish in the freedom of the craft. I guarantee your children will be hugely inspired seeing you write for pleasure and you in turn will find the process liberating.
- Write to your strengths and interests: So you lead ICT? Co-ordinate SEN? Have years of experience teaching early reading? Have a degree in science or something else? Find out a) what you’re good at and b) what you love. It helps to write about something you know. It will also carve out a niche or speciality as you market yourself and your writing career. And if you love your subject it will take the edge of the many, many (many!) revisions and edits your story will most likely need! (If you’re anything like me!)
- Know your age-group: Whether you’re writing picture books, middle grade or something else, make sure you’ve researched what’s selling well in the age group you want to write for. You’ll need to study what’s marketable but make sure your idea is unique enough to stand out. If you don’t work with the age children you want to write for, find out from staff what they read. A visit to your local book shop can help here too. Plus, the type of book you’re writing will affect the complexity of language, plot, word count and format your project should take.
- Model resilience! Remember all those times you told your class to keep trying? To not give up? Remember that assembly on learning from failure? Time to put your money where your mouth is! When you’ve got a polished draft of a story you’re happy with, join a critique group and get feedback from your peers who will take an objective look at your work and help you improve. PS: Even if you’re not quite ready to submit, critiquing others’ stories will help you develop and be reflective. There are many kinds of critique groups around. Face to face and online groups will help you unpick the publishing industry and will also be able to advise you on questions such as; how do I submit a story? Is my manuscript ready for submission? What should be in a query letter? Should I take the publisher or agent route? What do I do if I don’t hear back? Do I need to copywriter my work?…and many more! SCBWI is a great place to start.
So what are you waiting for….?
Oh, yeah… time!
Unfortunately I have no magic answer for this. Life in a school can be pressured and busy and leave you with little time of your own. You may even feel like you don’t have enough energy to devote to one or any of these ideas. And I would empathise.
But maybe… just maybe …there IS a way to squeeze something in?!
I often work for an hour or two late at night when everyone else in my family is asleep. Sometimes I get up an hour early before work. ( I got up at 5:30am to finish this post. So sorry for an typos!) I grab half and hour here and there and I think about characters and titles and plots in the shower, in traffic, as I cook the tea… Occasionally (weekends only!) I pull an all nighter! And then there’s the holidays. Maybe, there’s no better time to start than right now?!
There are so many benefits to following your dreams, your passions, your interests… plus I now find writing a great way to relax, off loading the stresses of the day and supporting my mental health.
Maybe its not a case of finding time but making time. And then there’s the fact that busy people are often the most productive….
So what are you waiting for?
And happy writing!