Advice For Kids Who Want to Become Writers
An interview with Bruce Lansky
Bruce Lansky is a best-selling author and editor of humorous children's poetry, such as I've Been Burping in the Classroom, If Kids Ruled the School, Rolling in the Aisles, If Pigs Could Fly...and Other Deep Thoughts, Dinner with Dracula, Oh My Darling, Porcupine , My Teacher's In Detention, and many more. He also is the author of inspiring children's stories, such as The Best of Girls to the Rescue.
Q: I think I want to be a writer, but where do I start?
BL: Read a lot. Become aware of what kind of writing you like best. Use your favorite books as sources of ideas. For example, if you like Shel Silverstein’s poem "Sick," see if you can write a few more lines that would fit its rhythm and rhyme pattern. (See the "Sick" poetry lesson.) Or work with another story or poem you like a lot. Don’t worry about "copying" a writer. Instead, think of this exercise as "learning" from a writer.
Q: How much do I have to write before I can be good?
BL: If you want to be a photographer, it’s important to take lots of photos. If you want to be an artist, it’s important to create lots of art. It’s the same with writing. The more you write, the better you become. So keep at it. Try to establish a regular time to write—in the morning before school or in the evening before bed.
Q: How do I think of things to write about?
BL: Keep your mind open to new ideas. Be aware of how, where, and when you do your best creative thinking. Sometimes ideas will just "come" to you. (I seem to get new ideas while running, riding a bike, or driving my car.) Keep a little notebook handy to write down your ideas. (I have one in my car at all times.)
Q: Sometimes my poems and stories have no point. What can I do?
BL: It’s important to develop a point of view, perspective, or message. What do you want to say? In plain English, write down whatever you feel strongly about. It may help if I list a few things that you might want to say: —"Life isn’t fair" or "Life is wonderful" —"Nothing goes right for me" or "I’m glad I’m me"—"I hate my brother" or "I love my brother" —"Spring is the most wonderful time of the year" or "Spring sucks" —"I have a crush on Pete but he doesn’t know I exist" or "Pete has a crush on me, but I wish he’d leave me alone. Once you’ve written your message in plain English, you’ve started the writing process. If you use that statement as the first line in your poem or the first sentence in your story, it will get you thinking about what comes next—probably examples that illustrate your point.
Q: What can I do with my finished poems and stories—besides store them in a closet?
BL: When you’ve written something, don’t hide it. Instead, share it with parents, teachers, or friends. Ask them what they think about it. It’s nice to know that they like it, of course. But it’s also important to ask for constructive criticism or suggestions on how you can improve your writing. Does the rhythm sound right in your poem? Is your story too long? Try not to be thin-skinned or sensitive about comments you receive. Instead of feeling hurt, thank your advisors for their help, and then get back to work.
Q: Why do I need suggestions to improve my writing?
BL: A very common mistake for beginning writers is to believe that their first effort is a finished work. It’s better to think of your first effort as a "draft" to be revised and improved upon. (This is where constructive criticism comes in handy.) We call great writers "artists" because they are never satisfied with a piece of writing until it is as "perfect" as they can get it. If you want to be a writer, you’re going to have to rework your poems or stories until they are as good as you can make them. You may think this is a bit much, but I often find something to improve in poems or stories I’ve already published. I make revisions, and then I submit the new version for publication in the next printing of the book.
Q: Now that I’ve revised my poems and stories, what do I do next?
BL: After you’ve "perfected" your written work, submit it for "publication" on your classroom bulletin board or wall, in a school newspaper or magazine, or on a children’s website (like gigglepoetry.com). Sign up for any young authors’ groups or programs that are available. Why? Because it’s rewarding to get your work noticed, discussed, or published. And it’s very helpful to meet teachers or other students who will support and encourage your desire to learn the craft of writing.
Q: How can I write more interesting beginnings to my poems?
BL: Perhaps it would help if I provided several different ways to start a poem. Perhaps one of them will help create more interesting beginnings for your poems.
1. Start a poem by stating your main point in a simple, declarative sentence.
-I hate cats.
-I wish my dad would let me drive.
-When I grow up, I want to be rich.
Your first line pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the poem, because it establishes a rhythm and rhyme pattern.
Here's how I would turn the first example into a poem:
I hate cats. I really do.
They shed their hair
it sticks like glue.
2. Start a poem with a rhythm pattern in mind.
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da DUM da DUM da
Using the first rhythm pattern, I came up with this:
I wish I could get "A"s in school.
Other kids wouldn't call me a fool.
Using the second rhythm, I came up with this:
I go to bed each morning.
I wake up late at night.
I spill my milk at breakfast
and then turn on the light.
3. Say something shocking or surprising.
-I hate cats.
-I go to bed each morning.
4. Use an interesting metaphor or simile (a comparison).
-Cats are like people.
-The summer sun procrastinated.
Here's what I did with the first example:
Cats are like people .
They whine when they can't get what they want.
Here's what I did with the second example:
The summer sun procrastinated until nine
before going to bed.
5. Use sounds to start your poem:
-Chuga chug-a, chug a chug-a
-Drip drop, falls the rain.
Here's what I did with the second example:
Drip, drop, falls the rain.
It is driving me insane.
I hope these examples give you a number of new ways to start a poem. Just for fun, you might want to take one of my opening lines and see what you can do with it.