Yes, some of the best advice I received about writing has been from a fictional character, Ms. Frizzle, created by writer Joanna Cole for The Magic School Bus books.
Many assume that writing non-fiction is safe. How are you taking chances when you’re sticking to the facts? How can you make mistakes or get messy?
Ms. Frizzle was talking about the scientific method – which requires anyone wanting to discover new things to take chances by opening your mind to new ways of viewing the world.
That doesn’t mean you make up a fantasy about the world. It means looking more closely, deeply, introspectively about something that’s always been there.
Whenever you are describing something in a new way, you’ll probably make mistakes. Get experts to fact check your details. Instead of being afraid of those mistakes, learn from them. If you got something wrong, chances are your young readers may be confused by those details, too. How can you explain it in a way that’s accurate and memorable?
Whenever you try to write something new, you have to get messy. It can take innumerable revisions before your story matches your vision for it.
I thought I’d finish my first picture book biography about William Hoy, a deaf baseball player of the 19th century, in one afternoon. I had the facts. He was fascinating. I’m an experienced journalist, used to turning out three stories a day.
Now, sixteen books later, I laugh at the steep learning curve I had with The William Hoy Story. That first book took me more than a decade to revise, polish and sell. It took me that long to learn the craft and understand I needed to go beyond a safe arrangement of established facts and take chances with a fresh approach to telling a story. What started out as a birth to death narrative became a story that revolved around William Hoy’s use of sign language.
So take chances. Don’t worry if you make mistakes and get messy. Because if you’re not making mistakes and getting messy, you’re not taking chances. And if you don’t take chances, you lessen the chance you’ll get to that thrilling new place where your book needs to go.