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Posted on Sep 30, 2013 in Blog, Writing

Advising a Nine-Year-Old Who Wants to Write

Advising a Nine-Year-Old Who Wants to Write

BBMexterior2This past Saturday I drove from New York City to Philadelphia for a panel of middle-grade authors at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Mt. Airy. I’m a big fan of the Big Blue Marble and regularly wear the store’s lovely t-shirt, which I bought when they invited me along with Zetta Elliott, Neesha Meminger, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich for a multicultural authors’ panel when Gringolandia came out.

Even though Rogue is more “young YA” than middle grade, I was thrilled to be in the company of the beloved Philadelphia-based author Catherine Gilbert Murdock and rising star Caroline Carlson. We had a great audience too; when all the chairs are taken and the organizers have to scour the place for more, it’s always a good sign. Each of us read from our latest books–

Catherine Gilbert Murdock (left) and Caroline Carlson

Catherine Gilbert Murdock (left) and Caroline Carlson

Catherine’s Heaven Is Paved with Oreos, Caroline’s Magic Marks the Spot, and my Rogue. Each of us read from the beginning chapters and then took questions from the audience.

And there were many questions. Among them were how much of our books are autobiographical (for the others, none; for me, a lot), what books we read at various stages of our lives, how old we were when we decided to become a writer, and whether we plan our books out ahead of time or start writing and see what happens. One young boy, in particular, asked a LOT of questions — very good questions too.

Then the boy’s mother asked us, “What do suggest for a nine-year-old who wants to be a writer?”

So we answered her with the following:

1. Read. Read widely to find out what you like, because that’s what you’re going to want to write, and that’s what you’ll be good at writing. Read to understand intuitively how language and story work, and how they fit together.

2. Don’t forget to play. Have as many experiences, and try as many different things (sports, hobbies) as you can. And for parents, when you choose toys, choose ones that encourage imaginative play and storytelling, rather than ones that feed you the story line and involve passive or highly restrictive play (like shoot-em-up video games).

Basking in Secret Gardener love from Cordelia Jensen (left), Laurie Morrison (center), and Val Howlett (right)

Basking in Secret Gardener love from Cordelia Jensen (left), Laurie Morrison (center), and Val Howlett (right)

3. Don’t think about publication, and don’t compare yourself to others. Be the best that you can be. Trying to get published too early — at least in competitive places — can lead to discouragement before you have a time to develop your abilities and your confidence. Catherine said she didn’t get published for the first time until the age of 40.

4. Above all, have fun with writing and making up stories. It’s supposed to be fun for you, not a chore. There are better paying jobs out there that are a chore.

Thanks to everyone who came to the Big Blue Marble Bookstore on Saturday and to Jennifer Sheffield for organizing this successful event. And a special shout-out to my VCFA classmates, the Secret Gardeners Val Howlett, Cordelia Jensen, and Laurie Morrison, who were there to cheer me on!

If you’re looking for more advice for young writers, check out these posts:

Why Do You Write?

Sexy Next Book

Kiara Needs Help and Hackett Middle School Answers the Call


  1. What a fabulous event and what wonderful advice for the young writer–for any writer, actually. We all need to be reminded to play.

    • I think a lot of young writers who are serious about their writing are…serious. The most important thing to do when you’re young is to try a lot of different sports, hobbies, and activities to see what interests you, and if you’re a budding writer, to stay involved in other things that will one day turn into material for your stories.

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