Monday, March 19, 2018

Dear Middle Grade Minded: How to Write for Middle Grade

We had a reader send in a question not long ago. It seemed like a great opportunity to remind people if they want to send in questions, we’re more than happy to try answering them.

Hello -- Can you recommend an online writing class for me? I have a good idea for a middle grade book but no experience in writing for this age group. Thanks

First of all, congratulations! Having a good idea is at least half the battle. However, this does lead me into a few rhetorical questions that hopefully will give you some helpful things to think about:

How familiar would you say you are with middle grade literature? Why do you think this is a good idea for middle grade?

When we were discussing the original question, Shari Green brought up an excellent point: “I've no idea if there are any decent classes, but of course the best ‘class' for learning to write middle grade is reading lots and lots of middle grade!” This is one of the most fundamental rules out there about writing, period: You have to know the audience you’re writing for. Middle grade is much more than just books with characters in a certain age range. Middle grade literature has to have something that will capture the attention of a kid growing up in a screen-infested world. It needs to have elements the reader can relate to. It needs to entertain them on their level, but without talking down to them. This isn’t always an easy balance to achieve. The more familiar you are with the books that successfully make all of this happen, the more informed you’ll be about how to approach your own story.

How much writing experience are you starting with?

Are you looking for a writing class as a first step in learning how to write a book? Do you want some guidance on how to write something more specific to a middle grade audience? Unfortunately I don’t have any list of classes to share (maybe someone else will and might post ideas in the comments), and I’m certainly not discounting writing classes, online or otherwise, as a good way to learn about the craft. However, the big truth about writing is the best way to learn how to do it or to get better at it is to WRITE. Young Michael Jordan practiced basketball for endless hours. When Bruce Springsteen was starting out, he played show after show after show. Stephen King probably used up more typewriter ribbons than he could count before he made his first professional sale. Everyone has to start somewhere, and has to put in the time to developing their skill, and, in the case of writers, finding their voice. Whether or not you ever find the type of class you’re thinking about, go ahead and start writing that book! Put that idea to work. Find out there are parts of it you love and parts you hate, then keep working at it and making it better. That’s all any of us can do.

I don’t want to leave you hanging without anything more than the “read more/write more” tips, so I do have a few suggestions. There are hundreds of books about writing out there, which can be more than a little daunting to consider. Here are three writing books I would personally recommend:

ON WRITING by Stephen King



I know a lot of writers who refer to this one as a favorite. I think it’s fair to call it essential.


BIRD BY BIRD BY Anne Lamott



Another thoughtful writing manual/memoir that I’ve always found similar to ON WRITING. They’re both helpful on their own, and they complement each other well.

THE CRAFT OF REVISION by Donald Murray



I was assigned to read this in a college class. Even though we were meant to read it from the perspective of improving academic writing, I found it incredibly valuable beyond that. Most real writing happens during revision, and this is one of the most thoughtful books about the mechanics involved I’ve even encountered.

I’d also suggest to dig deep into Twitter, and follow different authors, agents, and editors who post threads about craft and process. You can find some interesting points to consider if you keep your eyes open.

Good luck!

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