Eerdlings is introducing new guest post categories! We love hearing from our authors and illustrators — and we know you do too! — so we’re giving them more ways to share their stories, advice, and work in progress.
For The Best Advice posts, we ask authors and illustrators to share the best advice they’ve received or the best advice they can offer people interested in writing or illustrating children’s books. Today Marc Harshman, author of One Big Family, shares advice for aspiring authors of all ages.
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Most of the aspiring authors I’ve met over the length of my career have been age twelve or under, and so my advice has usually simply been to read as much as you can, as often as you can. And . . . to read everything — forget about what you “should” read — read what you want to read — comics, diaries, newspapers, magazines, fat novels, skinny novels, grade-appropriate books, grade-inappropriate books! And to the really young, to pre-readers, I say have someone read to you as much as you can, as often as you can — it is OK to become a beggar for stories!
And then, then for those older young readers, then, if you find you want to make some sort of response to all that lovely reading, well, pick up your pencil and write, write as much as you can as often as you can. You see, it is really rather simple. You start with your heart and the brain will follow. Typing out those last words today on a sunny, cold morning in Wheeling, West Virginia, I have to wonder if that’s not still good advice for any “aspiring” author?
Of course, for the adult aspirant, there will come questions about form, technique, MFA programs, publishing, trends, and so on. I have little to say about all that. What form and technique I possess came from devouring the authors I liked and eventually, I am sure, allowing some of their form and technique to seep into my own way of forming sentences, creating characters, spinning a story.
University training? Thoreau told his aspiring writers to “go chop wood.” Still not bad advice.
Is your story publishable? Frankly, despite decades spent writing, despite my thirteen children’s books, and several books of poetry, I still rarely know what is going to appeal to an editor and what isn’t — I simply try to write the very best story I can and then off it goes.
Trends? I don’t have a clue. Never have. Maybe I would have published more had I known what was popular, but there it is. I am happy trying to write what I want to write and to write that as well as I can. I’m still doing that, still here doing what I like to do. What more can I say?
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Marc Harshman has been the poet laureate of West Virginia since 2012. His new book is One Big Family. In addition to his poetry collections, he has written a dozen books for children, which have been published in several different languages. Visit his website at www.marcharshman.com.
I love this down-to-earth advice. It’s lovely to hear that you’ve built a career by writing what you like and not worrying a great deal about trends or what will sell. That seems like a path of integrity and purpose worth pursuing. Go chop wood, indeed! Thank you.
Thank you, Carrie!