I spent the past weekend at the New York SCBWI conference and, as always, it was enlightening and energizing. But what struck me was a message that I heard repeated a number of times from various speakers – editors, agents, and authors – and it was “write up!”
“Write up” means writing up for children, not down. It means writing complex stories with rich vocabulary. It means challenging readers to read and think critically. It means leaving plenty of room for the reader to interpret and interpolate.
The fact that so many people were using the same catchphrase intrigues me. I’m sure it wasn’t planned. I’m also struck that we’re being encouraged to “write up” at the same time that I’m hearing more and more stories in the general media about how children’s literature isn’t “real” literature, and adults who read young adult novels are in some fashion deficient and immature.
Clearly those in the publishing business don’t want us to dumb down our writing, and in fact they and readers won’t buy our work if we do. I find it insulting (to put it mildly) when I hear disparaging remarks about children’s and young adult literature because the authors who are finding an audience are “writing up” already. Take the example of Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, this year’s Newbery choice. Or Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun, this year’s Printz winner. Both highly complex, moving, and evocative stories.
So fellow authors, we are writing for an audience that needs all our smarts. This is an audience that must learn to think critically in a complex world. To heck with those who don’t want to read our challenging stories. Write up, my friends.