30 Writing Tips for Aspiring Children’s Authors

Writing Tip 1

Dig yourself out of that dark hole and start writing.

At first it will be covered with dirt.

Don’t worry about that now.

Later you can clean and polish it up to be shiny bright.

Writing Tip 2

Try to work on your manuscript every day.

Even 15 minutes will do.

In this way, when you do have time to write, you won’t have to wade down through the layers to get back to the core.

The core will be there in the forefront of your mind.

Writing Tip 3

Write a contract to yourself with the date you would like your manuscript to be accepted by.

Then put it away and forget about it.

It worked for me to the month with my first novel The Garden of Empress Cassia  after author Hazel Edwards told us in her writing class to do this.

Writing Tip 4

If you are a plotter you probably have your whole novel worked out.

Be open to ideas that come floating by.

Be willing to change. I reckon this is a good rule to apply to life in general.

Writing Tip 5

If you are having problems with your novel during the structural edit stage make a story board.

Draw a picture for each of your chapters.

Even if you can’t draw do the best you can.

Then cut it up, rearrange, add new ones to make your novel stronger.

This storyboard was the one I made for Ting Ting the Ghosthunter.

Writing Tip 6

During the editing stage use an author or poet who you admire.

Open their book at random, find a phrase, a paragraph that you love.

Then use this to inspire your own writing.

I think it was Marcus Zusak who said that he tries to put a gem on every page.

I like that a lot and always keep it in mind during the editing stage.

Writing Tip 7

If you can go on a writing retreat, a place like Varuna in the Blue Mountains will allow you dedicated time to nail your project. I am always amazed at how much work I can achieve.

Or if you are a published author or illustrator apply for a May Gibbs Literature Trust Residency for a month in Adelaide, Canberra or Brisbane.

Writing Tip 8

Plan what you want to achieve the next day.

No matter how small, it’s the satisfaction that you have done something towards your writing or illustrating that counts.

It is easy to be a procrastinator.

But it’s easier not to be.

Writing Tip 9

Write down your dreams.

In 1999 I had a very strange dream which led to a short story which led to my first novel which led me to believe that I could actually be a writer.

You never know what your subconscious is planning behind your back.

Writing Tip 10

Be observant.

Be mindful of life, of others, of coincidences which could be silent messages.

Watch and listen for those small gifts that may pass like a whisper.

Write them down. The more you collect the more that will arrive.

Writing Tip 11

Growing up as an Asian child in the 60s in a very white Australia was hard because of the racism.

But if I hadn’t experienced this and a searching for where I belong I would not have become a writer.

Bad things that happen are good research for your novels.

Writing Tip 12

It is hard to know when a manuscript is ready to send out.

A paid assessment by a professional editor is worth it at this stage.

Rejection is part of a writer’s life though so don’t despair.

The Garden of Empress Cassia was rejected by 6 publishers before it was finally picked up by Penguin Random House.

Have faith. Be determined.

Writing Tip 13

Ideas come at the most inconvenient times – in the shower, while driving the car, in the middle of the night.

Get out of the shower, stop the car, write notes on your phone in the dark.

Those ideas will happily latch onto the next person if you don’t.

Writing Tip 14

I like to take my time when I begin a new novel.

There are a lot of things to consider – tone, voice, point of view, tense.

And of course your characters need fleshing out.

Experiment and find which is the most effective way to tell your story.

Don’t rush it.

Writing Tip 15

Look into your own heritage for ideas for a story.

Interview parents, relatives. Truth IS stranger than fiction.

Children need to read books about diversity, about themselves.

Let us celebrate our differences!

Writing Tip 16

When I was an aspiring writer I was, like many, too scared to talk in public.

So I went to lots of writers festivals to research how authors presented, imagining that one day I’d be up there on stage presenting at a festival or school too.

I would go to the Melbourne Writers Festival and listen to my favourite Australian authors such as Sally Rippin, Isobelle Carmody and Sonya Hartnett.

I found that they helped me a lot.

Writing Tip 17

Getting published is a combination of hard work, talent, luck and timing.

Finding a publisher who connects with your story maybe all that is needed for your manuscript to be accepted even after many have rejected it.

This happened with The Garden of Empress Cassia which went on to win many awards and to get published in the US, England, Korea and Colombia.

Penguin children’s publisher, Julie Watts connected with my story and it is still in print 17 years later.

Hold the faith.

Writing Tip 18

When stuck write from a different point of view.

If you are writing in 3rd person try 1st.

Interview your protagonist, ask her what she would like to do, where she would like to go.

Have one character interview the other.

Go to a cafe and write in a notebook.

Writing Tip 19

Join your local SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators)

There are chapters with meetings and conferences worldwide so wherever you travel you will be with like minded friends.

Learn, share and be inspired!

Writing Tip 20

Don’t think that you are ever too old to begin to write or to be published.

Some of us are late bloomers.

Write from the heart.

Write from your accumulated knowledge.

Write every day.

Be patient.

Writing Tip 21

Find your best writing time.

Everyone is different.

Mine is in the morning.

But if I do something mundane first on my laptop like pay bills, answer emails my creative energy & enthusiasm dissipates fast.

Best to start right off on your WIP.

Leave the boring stuff for later.

But it depends on whatever works best for you.

Writing Tip 22

As writers and illustrators we often think that we are not good enough.

No matter how long we have been working, or how many books we have published,

doubts still creep in.

But that is all part of a creator’s life.

If we thought our work was great we would not strive to be better.

Creating is pushing boundaries.

Writing Tip 23

When writing for children if your sentence, paragraph, chapter, dialogue doesn’t move your story forward leave it out.

If you are bored reading your words it is a sure bet that your reader will be bored too.

Rewrite until your excitement returns.

Writing Tip 24

A career in writing means navigating as best one can an emotional roller coaster.

There is little money in it.

There are some highs & many lows.

Writing a novel is like entering an abyss.

But we do it because we must.

We do it because Story is the blood in our veins.

Writing Tip 25

Editors are gold.

As an author our editor is the most valuable person we know.

Listen and learn from them and don’t be too precious about your work.

They too want to make your book the best it can possibly be.

Writing Tip 26

Working from home is lovely but you have to be disciplined.

Some days even the ironing seems more appealing than slogging away at your novel.

Change where you write.

Go to a cafe or library. It certainly saves on heating in winter and cooling in summer.

Treat your writing like a job.

Writing Tip 27

Print and read your work in progress out aloud to your kids, your mum, dad, dog, cat, bear.

Imagine that they really are your intended audience.

Read it to your inner child.

This way you will read with feeling and intent.

You will know when it doesn’t ring true.

Writing Tip 28

Join a group of writers who are at a similar stage in their career and who write for the same audience.

Don’t read your own work to the group, read someone else’s.

This is important because then you will know where there are gaps in your writing.

Writing Tip 29

Each novel dictates to you its own unique approach.

They are like people – unpredictable, sweet, stubborn, giving, frustrating, surprising, wonderful.

You cannot preorder.

You just have to see where it takes you.

This is the exciting part of the journey.

Writing Tip 30

The sweetest sentence an author can write on their novel is made up of just 2 words.


They are always accompanied by a long satisfying sigh and maybe an insane grin.

Happy writing everyone!

Gabi x