Finding (and Protecting) the Why

emu whyI may be an Emu with a debut coming next fall (!!!), but I’m already a published author. Oh, yes. I am the author of five articles about molecule-based magnets, published in national chemistry journals. They are every bit as riveting as you’d imagine.

Why did I write them? Not for fun, I promise you that. I wrote them because I wanted to teach, and to do that I needed a graduate degree. Those papers were a necessary step in proving that my research was valid and valuable so that I could earn that degree.

But here’s the thing: nobody really asked why I was going to grad school or writing these papers or why I wanted to teach. People somehow seemed to understand. That has not been my experience with the writing I’ve done the last few years.

Why do you write books for kids?

Somebody asked me this recently, and it was hard for me, in that moment, to come up with an answer that satisfied either of us. Even when they don’t ask directly, I feel the why so often, like the vaildity and value of the type of writing I do now are being called into question. If I were a real writer, wouldn’t I be writing for adults? Or writing something academic? There are definitely people who get it, but there are so many who seem totally baffled by the why.

The bigger problem comes, though, when we begin to lose sight of the why ourselves. When we’re faced with that question in another’s eyes or words, as I was, and come up with an answer that’s far short of satisfying, as I did.

So if you haven’t done it yet, or if it’s been a while, take some time to really think about your why. I tried to really articulate mine here, but answers will definitely vary.

Your why may be the stories inside you that just have to come out. The characters who won’t leave you alone until their story is told.

Or the love you have for the craft of writing.

Or the wonderfully supportive kidlit community that you love being part of.

Or the legacy of amazing children’s literature that you want to add your voice to.

Or the kid you once were, or the kids you know now, and the stories you want to share with them.

Whatever your why, take some time to actually put it into words. Then protect it and nourish it and remember it. And whatever your publishing path may throw at you, don’t you dare let go of it.

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Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂


Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Writing, Writing and Life

13 responses to “Finding (and Protecting) the Why

  1. Ah, that IS the question, isn’t it? Thanks for posing this in such a kind and supportive way – and for making me really think about my answer. All the possible reasons you state are part of my reason, but I think I’ll dig deeper. (And perhaps answer your post with a future post of my own.) Thanks for this! I can’t wait to read your debut!


  2. Why? Because it is my calling. My gift. My passion. My all–almost. It must be, because it’s sure not for the money!


    • elainebvickers

      Linda, I love this. And you’re so right–if the money is your reason, there’s a very good chance you’re going to spend your career being very disappointed. 🙂


  3. Because if you make a story that works for them, kids are willing to go with you anywhere in a way that most adults won’t. Because they still understand how essential laughter is. Because a kid is still open enough to let a story change their life. Why wouldn’t you want to write for them?


  4. tamaraellissmith

    Because a book is a safe space inside of which I can simply be. Which then allows me to become. Kids need that, and want that, and thrive inside of that. We all do. Thank you for this, Elaine. ❤


  5. Janet Fox

    A great post, Elaine, and so exactly right. I write for kids because those are the books I want to read, and get lost in words like I did when I was young.


  6. mariagianferrari

    Thanks for your thoughtful post, and reminding me not to forget my many whys… 🙂


  7. I love this post, Elaine. Keeping the “why” in mind strikes me as something that would be so useful through the ups and downs of publishing. Thank you for this!


  8. I write for kids just so I can hang on with some of the coolest people on the planet–especially Emus! That’s not really the only reason, of course, but it’d be enough all by itself. 😉 Hugs, Elaine!


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