by Peggy Thomas
Ideas are like radio waves. They are all around us, and you simply have to raise your antenna to tune in. That means being observant, reading widely, talking to people, and being open to the world around you. The more you practice being aware, the more ideas you’ll accumulate. Unfortunately, not every idea becomes a book (at least not my ideas).
Before you plunge head first into writing, ask yourself a few questions:
#1. Is the idea kid-friendly? You may love the idea of writing about the history of buttons or the 2008 economic crash, but what would a 4th grader think. Even if you suspect that a young reader’s eyes would glaze over, it doesn’t mean your idea is dead. Just figure out a way to make your story more relevant to a young audience. For example, you could focus on kids who lost their homes during the economic crash. Or compile the most bizarre and zany facts about buttons.
#2. Has anyone else written on this topic? Do a quick search on Amazon, or conduct a more thorough search on WorldCat.org, which contains the records from more than 10,000 libraries.
Don’t panic if another writer had the same idea. You can still write about buttons, especially if the competition is more than five years old. Librarians tend to refresh their nonfiction every few years to keep their collections current. However, you do not want to write the exact same book, so…
#3. Can I add something new to the conversation? Look for cutting-edge research. Approach the topic from a different angle. For example, rather than a book about all buttons, focus on one collector, one time period, or write from a button’s point of view. When I wrote about George Washington, I approached it from a farming viewpoint in George Washington Plants a Nation (Calkins Creek, 2014).
#4. Can I find enough information? I’ve had to drop several projects simply because I could not find material. Look for primary sources like letters, diaries, period news articles, and people to interview.
Then you will be able to write a well-researched book with a fresh slant that any kid will love.
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