When Nostalgia Gets in The Way of Your Writing Career

Saturday, March 03, 2012
by wharman www.flickr.com
I remember fondly sitting at the dentist's office with my mom and flipping through the latest Highlights for Children magazine. I loved the Hidden Pictures and the comic strip stories. I loved the poems and arts and crafts. I also remember getting my Jack and Jill magazines in the mail and sending in my own poems and drawings. These were some exciting days as a child.

When I decided to write for children, I wanted to publish a book, of course. But all the advice I read and heard at writing conferences was that while I was working on my book, I needed to build a publishing history. I needed to submit to magazines. This was one way I could work on my craft and learn the business at the same time.

So, I started on fiction stories, as most writers do. I thought back to those doctor's office waiting rooms and reading stories with my mom and dad. I remembered using my Jack and Jill magazines to play school, and reading with great expression the stories out loud to my stuffed animals.

This nostalgia got me rejection after rejection--and only one acceptance to a small, independent magazine because I placed in their fiction contest.

What I soon learned was that I needed a critique group. I needed to try my hand at nonfiction, too. I needed to learn about fillers and editors and query letters and more. So, through my correspondence classes at the Institute of Children's Literature and the wonderful members of my critique group (as well as all the conferences they dragged me to), I soon realized there was no place for nostalgia if I wanted a career as a writer. I needed to put away those memories of Highlights and Jack and Jill and face reality.

I see this SO OFTEN with new writers and/or people who have been trying to get a children's book published for years. They want to write a book like they remember from their childhood. They don't want to hear about e-zines or Walter, the Farting Dog or picture book apps. They don't want to hear that nonfiction sells easier than fiction, and that magazine editors are dying for boy stories with humor. They don't want to hear that they have to go study the market and figure out how it is always changing.

As the saying goes, "This is not your grandma's" publishing business any more. If you find yourself receiving rejection after rejection on your picture book or middle grade novel manuscript, take some time to find a critique group (or partner) and make it better. If you have any extra money, hire a professional editor. While you are in the revision process, learn about today's business and build your publishing history. Look into writing for e-zines and magazines--including teaching and parenting mags-after all, aren't these the people who are going to buy your children's books for their young ones?

Nostalgia is great--and it often helps us get in touch with our inner child, and come out with the best stories ever. But don't let it take over your career.

Margo's "Writing for Children: Short Stories, Articles, and Fillers" online class is still open! It's not too late to join. It starts on Monday 3/5. Click here for more information. 


Anonymous said...

What a great article! You have hit on something that I, as a non-fiction writer, would never have thought of. I too loved the magazines you mentioned when I was a kid and I pick them up now whenever I'm in my dr. or dentist's office. I loved Gus and Gallant! Interestingly, I noticed how much the magazines had changed but never put it together until you did it for me. Thank you.

fsmum said...

ah, nostalgia. Wouldn't I just love to be able to write something like Enid Blyton's 'The Enchanted Woods', 'The Faraway Tree' and 'The Magic Wishing Chair'.

Although I don't write for children, I think your advice about writing for e-zines etc is good advice for anyone. It's a great avenue to get your name out there and before long you may have people making enquiries about more of your work!

Margo Dill said...

@Kelli--oh, I know magazines have changed so much! I tried to find an old 70s Highlights for Children magazine cover somewhere on the Web, but it was taking too long. I remember them being so white and brown and orange--now they are colorful and vibrant (competing with video games!) And that's just the cover--imagine the content.

@fsmum I completely agree with you that the same advice applies to adult writers. While working on your novel, submit to magazines, your local newspaper, e-zines like WOW!, and anthologies. You learn so much from dealing with editors and submitting--it can only help you when you are searching for a home for your book!

Linda O'Connell said...

Great column and good advice!

Holly Helscher said...

I think this is great advice. Kids today are more aware and have more of the world at their fingertips. Writing to get inside their experiences takes longer (at least I think so). Mrs. Piggle Wiggle must be out of the question. But by golly (ah, the nostalgic expletive), we can all do it.


Margo Dill said...

@Linda: Thanks! :)

@Holly Oh, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle--she just needs an update. HA! Love her and those books. I remember fondly in third grade. . .oh, there I go again. :)

Nicole Pyles said...

Oh this reminds me of what I'm working on now!! I am writing a fantasy novel and I'm trying right now to just get through the first draft, but I do wonder whether my nostalgia will catch up to me and I will have to rethink my approach. The publishing industry and what is popular changes so often!

Margo Dill said...

@Nicole--I think it is always a good idea to get through your rough draft and just get it all down on paper. Then you can take a realistic look at it to see if you are, indeed, a victim of nostalgia. :)

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