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Children's and YA Writers: Remember What It's Like to Be Obsessed with Books?

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My daughter has discovered Percy Jackson. This is after she discovered Harry Potter in early 2020, and then Hunger Games once we made our way through all seven books of Harry, and we were still in the middle of a pandemic. And for each one, she was in love with the books--couldn't get enough of them or the characters or the authors. 

She's in fifth grade this year, and when she discovers something, it consumes her. She's now planning her Percy Jackson Halloween costume and using her allowance to buy a PJ Camp Halfblood shirt. She made a PJ necklace, and she's constantly asking her grandparents and me trivia questions about the plot of Percy Jackson book one, even though we've never read the book (or maybe I read it years ago--it's hard to remember--I'm old). And she's telling us about the Greek gods, as if we had never heard of them before. But I'm letting her because she's excited, and she loves knowing something we don't.

Her enthusiasm helps me remember. I remember being consumed by things like this before I had to get an adult job and have adult responsibilities. I loved Trixie Belden and Sweet Valley High, and when I would go to the mall with my parents, I would beg for the next Trixie or SVH book from the B. Dalton. I wanted to be Trixie. I wanted to be one of the twins, and I couldn't get enough.

The great thing about being the mom of a kid who loves stories is that my enthusiasm for creativity gets a spark--all the time. She helps me remember what it's like to be absorbed by the things I love, by the things my friends loved, and to have a big worry (be not such a big worry at all), like how will I get the next book in the series? Or how will I design my Halloween costume?

Plus, another bonus right now is she's the age of the audience I write and publish for. And she tells me my books are good (although not quite as good as Percy Jackson...), and trust me, she wouldn't just say that because I'm her mom. Her words are encouraging and hopeful, and I feel so lucky to be her mom and to have a kid who loves books. 

But what do you do if you're writing for this audience and you don't have this spark of energy in your home? Eventually, I won't--eventually she'll be driving and dating and working her part-time job, and then she'll be in college. What do I do then? How do I keep that kid-like enthusiasm alive? How do I remember what it's like to be that age?

We read. We watch Netflix shows that kids are watching. We schedule school visits (although I know that's pretty hard right now!). We talk to librarians and bookstore clerks. We talk to people whose kids are that age. What are they into? What are they obsessed by? How do they act? Then we read and binge the shows they're binging. Maybe we even play a video game or two. We understand our audience. Or we try.

My point?

We write because we love to write, but we all must remember our audience. And when you're a children's writer or a YA writer, your audience is different than you, and it's important to remember how they are--not just for the characters whom you're writing, but for your readers. Imagine your perfect reader, your reader who is obsessed with your books and wants to dress up like your main character or write fan fiction or make YouTube videos about your book. Write the best book you can for that reader. Keep that reader in your mind, and you will already be on your way to having a Halloween costume designed.

As for my daughter? She's currently on to book two of Percy Jackson, already watched the first movie, and her Camp Halfblood shirt is on its way from Amazon, arriving tomorrow. I better get busy with book one. 

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, instructor, coach, and publisher, living in St. Louis, MO with her daughter and dog. Find out more at www.margoldill.com.

Want to learn more about writing for kids and YA readers? Consider taking Margo's class that starts October 6 and is CURRENTLY ON SALE this semester. Find out more about Writing Middle Grade and YA Fiction: A Study and Workshop by clicking here

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