Thursday, 7 August 2014

Why you should talk to other children's authors

Moira Butterfield 

A few years ago, when I’d just turned freelance, I went to a meet-up for authors and would-be-authors. It was a general local event for anyone, and there I was quickly cornered by a strangely aggressive chap who demanded to know how much money I made. That experience put me off meeting other authors for a while, which is a shame because in hindsight I realize he wasn’t even an author. He was one of those types who fancied being one because he thought he could get rich quick.
Still, lacking confidence and coming from a distinctly untouchy-feelie office environment myself, I shrunk from mixing with other writers.
Then I was asked to a local coffee meeting. I don’t remember why I decided to go, but I think I was probably feeling somewhat isolated. There I met some friendly folk who told me about a nationwide online children’s author group I could join. Well...It was online, so maybe I could. I could stay quiet or I could just log off if it wasn’t for me.
Luckily I found a very supportive community. The authors there didn’t necessarily do the same kind of work as me but they were all writers and they led writer’s lives. I began to ask questions and get helpful answers, such as how to use Twitter or what to charge for a school visit.
Eventually I met up with some of the authors in the group. I was nervous. I do a lot of work-for-hire projects in between trying to write my own material. How would that go down? I don’t have an agent. Would that be perceived as odd?
No. It was OK. I found friendly supportive people prepared to share creative experiences. They’ve helped me to think about my own work and I’ve been encouraged to move forward and to write in different ways. Some of us even set up this blog. Amazing! Now I can talk to authors every day if I want to. 
I’ve also found myself being supportive, and that’s been a surprisingly big plus because it turns out that helping others leads to increased personal self-confidence and feelings of worth (a secret of life that I definitely did not learn in pressurized offices!).  
I’ve even found myself sending messages to people I’ve never met because they are going through difficult times, and though I don’t know the details (I don’t have to) I do know how very hard it is to work when life is tough, and I can say: “I understand. It's OK to take time out. Your creativity won't go away.”
The other day I met a new group of children's writers near my home, and beforehand I felt that nervousness again, unsure who they’d be or what they would think of someone who might be working on a picture book one day and a history book or a first reader on another day. It turned out they were friendly, fun and wanted to hear from me.
I still have those insecure feelings but I’ve found so much in common with other children’s authors. I’ve found lots of people who think rather like me.
So I’d recommend meeting up with other children’s authors near you, and they don’t all have to be picture book authors. They could be writing all sorts of things for all sorts of projects, but the point is they ARE writing. Shoot the breeze, enjoy a coffee and know that you’re not alone in your working life.  
Currently I'm working on both history books and picture books. I have books coming out about the Anglo-Saxons this week, aimed at schools. In the meantime I continue writing my own novel series for 8+, which I hope to finish by the 22nd Century. I definitely need a coffee! 


Jane Clarke said...

You are so right, Moira, writing can be a lonely activity and it's good to talk to other writers and become part of the children's writing community. I've made lots of lovely friends (real and online) through it.

Moira Butterfield said...

For a long time I didn't realise how important it was, and I also felt reticent about mixing. I was wrong!

Siobhan Harrison said...

Hi Moira I enjoyed reading this. : )

Lydia Syson said...

You are so right! I've been amazed and delighted by the lovely supportive community of children's writers I've found myself in - will always remember being picked up by you at the station Moira and my nerves about embarking on my first ever writing retreat vanishing! Thank you for that and now this.

Paeony Lewis said...

Yes, it makes all the difference having friends (online, offline and both) who write for children. Plus I think we're a different breed to other writers. Whenever I've been with people from other writing genres, I've found it interesting but somehow we don't quite mesh. I think we're kinder and less self absorbed ;-) OK, I know I'm generalising!

Pippa Goodhart said...

And I think that chatting via blogs counts as part of this. Thanks, Moira.

Jon Burgess Design said...

Good post. I find myself full of good intentions, but never quite managing to light the firework under my rear end that would provide the impetus to make it happen ;-) I did try to organise something in Cambridge years ago but the only response I got was "Somebody tried that a couple of years ago but everybody just sat round moaning about publishers so it didn't last", so I gave up. Cambridge is a funny place like that. Dunno why. . .
My mate John reckons the collective noun for illustrators is a 'Moan'. Maybe that should include writers ;-)

Lynne Garner said...

I think the best thing I did was join the Scattered Authors Society (I'll always be grateful to Julie Sykes - - who told me about the group).The members are supportive, willing to share knowledge and understand my moans and groans about all things writing related.

I've found creative people need other creative people around them. My other half is a musician and between us we know authors/writers, editors, musicians, singers, a film producers/director, a puppeteer, a lighting director/engineer, script writers, actors to name but a few. It's like bees to a honey pot we all seem to be drawn together.