Newest Catchphrase: Write Up!

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.imgres

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.imgres-1

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.

Write up!

8 Responses to “Newest Catchphrase: Write Up!”

  1. Rosanne Parry

    Write up indeed! I think kids need far more push than they often get from a book. They like thinking through the deeper issues. I do think complex vocabulary ought to be paired with grammatical clarity. Often a big idea goes over better in a shorter paragraph, but absolutely don’t duck the rich language or the complex story structures. 🙂

  2. A. W. Downer


    I have been so tired of people telling me not to use a wide vocabulary because kids won’t understand it. That’s part of the point: one reason to read is to expand vocabulary. Where do they think my vocabulary came from? Assuming that a young person can’t infer from context or can’t look up an unknown word is silly. We should trust our readers.

    Thanks for sharing!


    • Janet

      Go, Annie!! I totally agree. I heard a complex word this morning on the radio and realized I’d known the definition all my life. My parents weren’t afraid to introduce us to complex ideas.

    • Janet

      Thanks, Mary! Absolutely. We connect with readers through the spaces where they can enter and think.

  3. Linda W

    I agree with you 100%. I’ve heard the comments about MG and YA being a “lesser form” of writing. I usually shake my head at that sort of thinking. Writing a novel for kids or teens is difficult. To show my respect for the audience, I’m trying to write the best story I can.

    • Janet

      Good for you!! I’m getting very cranky when I hear these dismissive remarks. It’s also very insulting to kid readers. Cheers, Linda!