Your Words Matter
It’s no secret that I love music. I attribute it to quite a few things: my mom playing music in our home, her record collection (that I would rollerskate to in the basement), my first Sony stereo system at the age of eight years old, and MTV in its earliest days of existence.
Last week, while I was running errands between appointments, an old tune was played on the Current from my teen years (a Van Halen song I hadn’t heard in a really, really long time). By this point, I was experiencing post-conference brain and constantly drinking coffee so that I would be somewhat functional during daytime hours. Despite this state of exhaustion, I knew every single word of that song.
This was fate’s way of reminding me how important those words are. And if those words are intended for kids, this is our call as writers (and those who work with writers) to provide stories that reflect the lives of readers. Preferably authentic stories that these readers can connect with.
During my undergrad studies, I worked with young children in a child development center. There was a four-year-old child I would read The Very Hungry Caterpillar (by Eric Carle) to at naptime every day. He loved this book and couldn’t nap until we read it. One afternoon, he insisted on reading the book to me. He then proceeded to “read” aloud by memory. All our naptime readings about this caterpillar mattered, as this preschooler absorbed the words to the story like a sponge. I can only hope 20+ years later that he’s still an avid reader and that he’ll do the same for his own kids someday.
Whether you’re writing for young, middle grade, or young adult readers, it’s important that they see themselves in the worlds you create. Remember your audience, strive to establish a sense of adventure and discovery, and look back at your development as a reader. Learning words is one thing, but becoming a lifelong reader should be an organic and personal experience for every reader.
Take the time to remember why you read specific books in your youth in addition to why they gained your attention. Study the authors who inspired your own life of reading (and writing), then get to know the authors who inspire young readers today. Don’t disregard your words, as they matter. By taking the time to read others’ stories and understanding why those stories resonate beyond the pages with today’s readers, your writing will hopefully reach a lifelong reader-in-development.
Then look back Dr. Seuss and words of wisdom in I Can Read with My Eyes Shut!:
The more that you read,
the more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
the more places you’ll go.
Who wouldn’t hope this for today’s young readers?
Looking back to my Van Halen sing-a-long last week, I can’t help but recognize that my love of music came from listening to it frequently. So much that the lyrics of many songs embedded themselves in my memory. And the same goes for all those books I read in my childhood. While I have no desire to ever read another V.C. Andrews book again, I can still break down her storylines 30 years later. The same goes for all of Beverly Cleary’s books and pretty much any Dr. Seuss book.
While all the authors (and musicians) that influenced my interests as an adult obviously didn’t have my own development in mind, they forever influenced who I am today. And if their words mattered to just one reader/listener, please never forget your words matter too.
Dawn Michelle Frederick is the owner of and literary agent at Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. She brings a broad knowledge of the book business to the table, bringing multiple years of experience as a bookseller in independent, chain, and specialty stores; sales and marketing; and book development. She was previously a literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency, and she has a BS in human ecology and an MS in information sciences. Dawn cofounded the MN Publishing Tweet Up and is the current president of the Twin Cities Advisory Council for MPR, a member of the BOD for Loft Literary, and a teaching artist at Loft Literary. You can find her on Twitter at @redsofaliterary.