What I Learned About Writing By Reading To My Daughter

Hi guys. It's been a while. Blogging sporadically is my thing apparently. And I can't promise that it's going to change for a while (probably about 18 years, to be exact).

Here's the deal. I've been reading a lot of kids books lately. And by a lot, I mean A LOT. And by a lot, I mean I read some of the same ones over and over and OVER again. But that's ok. Anything for the kids, right?

As I've been reading these books, I've been thinking, wow, maybe all of us writers should learn from our buddies over in children's fiction. They're kind of smart. First of all, they know how to pick an easy-to-please audience. And secondly, who wouldn't want to live in the world of talking bears and cows that jump over the moon? Sign me up. Unless a cow lands on your head. That would suck.

In all seriousness, though, kids' book have plenty for the rest of the world to learn from. So here is some of my Goodnight Moon and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom theorizing for your reading pleasure:

Use your imagination.

Hate to break it to you, but in the real world, the alphabet doesn't climb coconut trees, daddy bunnies don't tell baby bunnies they love them to the moon and back, and llamas don't ask kangaroos if their mama is a llama. That'd be cool, but it just doesn't happen.

Here's the thing, though, adult writing is (most of the time) just plain boring. I'm not going to ask for a show of hands, but how many of us actually read more than just the first few paragraphs of most internet content out there?

And how many unfinished books that you swear you're going to finish but probably won't are sitting on your bedside table (if it's any consolation, mine includes a book about genes and one about anxiety. There might be one about getting things done somewhere in that stack too).

Kids' books get it right, though. They make us imagine and see the world from a whole new perspective. I'm not saying you have to go out and start getting children's books from the library (they'd probably be a whole lot easier to finish than ones about the genetic code, though) or start your next blog post with a cat playing a fiddle.

What you should do, however, is find a way to capture your reader's imagination. Even if your article is about the most boring thing in the world, there's always a kernel of a story. Find it.

Pictures solve all the problems.

My daughter wouldn't care about books or the supposedly sedative effects of bedtime stories without the pictures. (And for what it's worth, stories don't put her to sleep. Trust me. I'm lucky if I get to the end of a book without a few pages torn out or a bite out of the cover). But those pictures, she stares at them and touches them, and, yes, licks them.

Everyone tells you to include images in your articles to keep your reader's attention, so I'm not going to restate the obvious. But take a second and think about your writing, does it convey an image to your audience? Could you keep their attention even without those clickbait photos you include?

The issue here is the difference between concrete and abstract. When you use concrete language, it's easy for your audience to grasp. Abstract language, however, gets a little heady, and you'll be lucky if your readers stick around past the first sentence or two.

For the sake of concreteness, here's an example:
Abstract writing: The United States ensures truth and justice for all.

Truth and justice are two concepts that you can't really get a clear picture of in your head. They're both good things, and we can't throw out abstract language altogether, but when you use abstract words, try to follow up with an example.

Concrete writing: The United States ensures truth and justice for all by protecting the innocent, providing fair trials for any accused of a crime, and punishing those convicted of criminal action.

The issue with abstract language is that everyone's definition of the word in question can be a little different. For instance, justice to Americans looks like a legal system that allows fair trials. Justice to a citizen of a dictatorship, however, could look extremely different.

Simple is always better.

If there's one thing you notice about kids' books right away, it's that they don't use a lot of big words. I think the biggest word I've come across so far is the name Olivia. Other than that, most words are little one syllable gems.

And you know what's great? Short words don't make those books boring! I love them, my daughter loves them - it's a win-win.

When it comes to writing, I think a lot of writers feel like big words or explaining difficult concepts with lots of jargon makes them sound smart.

I can always tell when I'm entering jargon land because a little red devil pops up on my shoulder and says "ohh yeah, people are going to think you're like brillant or something."

If you're writing something to make yourself look better, honestly, it's just going to make you look like a pompous toad. Use one syllable words as much as possible. Unless you're calling someone a pompous toad. Then two syllables are acceptable.

Longer doesn't mean more.

The other thing I like about children's books is that they're short and sweet and to the point. That's a good thing, otherwise, neither my daughter nor I would make it to the end. In fact, my daughter's at the stage where if I see more than ten words per page, I probably won't read the book to her. We'd both regret it.

Obviously, if you've made it this far in this blog post, you know I'm not promoting ten word articles. That would be dumb. What I am saying, however, is that just because Google says you'll get a better search ranking if you write 1200 word articles as opposed to 400 word articles doesn't mean you should always write 1200 words. In fact, sometimes 400 words are more insightfull than 1200.

Don't let word counts drive your content. Let content drive your content. If you have enough content for 1200 words, awesome! If you only have enough for 400 words, don't try to fill the remaining 800 with fluff.

Write for the kids.

So, what's the takeaway? Well, for starters, read a kids' book once in a while. And then, do whatever you can to write like you're writing for kids. Because what are adults besides large, potty-trained children?