April 12, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Simple Science” (TURTLE – The Magazine for Preschoolers, January/February 2011) Guy Stewart #16

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

I’ve been a science teacher for over thirty years, having taken the opportunity to teach everything from Astronomy to Zoology, at levels both low and high, and to students both gifted and challenged by ability and language. My first book was an outgrowth of my life as a science teacher.

But the fact is that science is my JOB, so when I write, I don’t really want to write about what I do every day. I’ve avoided writing about experiments ever since the publication of SIMPLE SCIENCE SERMONS FOR BIG AND LITTLE KIDS (SSS) because I neither want to lock myself into a career as a science writer nor do I want to back away from writing fiction.

Even so, this seemed like a fun project and I had the time – and I had a demonstration that was ALWAYS a favorite with both kids and adults. Filling a plastic resealable bag with water and driving a sharp pencil through it while not causing a disastrous leak always impressed people! It was simple, spectacular, and as I had grandchildren growing up, I thought I’d try my hand at a simple science experiment.

The format was easy enough to find after checking out and studying a couple of years of science experiment articles, the format seemed relatively straightforward and consistent with how I’d written SSS. Admittedly, the format was adapted from Janice Pratt VanCleave’s multiple “how-to” science books with an introduction, procedure, and an explanation.

I wish I could tell you I agonized over it, but that would be a lie. This article played directly to my strengths in both knowledge and style. There was no stretching; no research. I knew exactly what I was doing and how to go about it. There’s an aphorism in writing, “Write what you know” which is usually attributed to Mark Twain and against which uncounted inexperienced writers rail citing hundreds of exceptions which (I hear) proves the rule...or something. This is evidence that it works to the advantage of a writer to write what they know. I’d put this together fairly easily; after all, I’d been doing science demonstrations for three decades! I was definitely playing to my strength here.

I typed it up (US Kid’s TURTLE and HUMPTY DUMPTY editor Terry Webb Harshman didn’t accept electronic submissions at the time) along with another idea, sent it off, and forgot about it. To tell the truth, I often forget about submissions. It’s the only way I can remain sane in this world of craftsman story writing and publishing. Don’t get me wrong, I check up on my subs – I’m just not obsessive about it!

When I got the note back from Terry Webb Harshman accepting the manuscript, I was thrilled! Everyone seemed to know the magazine and I’d read it even when my kids were young; it seemed like every other doctor’s office had a copy lying around usually right next to HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN. She wanted a few edits, which I happily did, and the demonstration appeared several months later – with a really fun illustration. As an aside to anyone who’s a new writer, you should know that you have absolutely no control over the illustrations that are paired with your writing. I have never regretted the illustrations – though I’ve been surprised by several.

If I had to categorize this experience, I’d say it was pretty painless. It was also FUN!

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