By Vikki Marmaras
For the past few years I have immersed myself in the world of children’s literature. I started writing when my eldest son was born, at a time when I was looking for a change but didn’t want to commit to long term study.
Naively, I thought writing for kids would produce quick results. Now I know that becoming a published children’s author requires the same commitment as succeeding in other disciplines. Without planning to, I even followed a well-known learning model to help me achieve my dream.
The 70-20-10 model states that to succeed in mastering a particular skill we need to spend 70% of our learning time in a hands-on environment. A further 20% of our time is spent in informal learning, also known as social learning. And lastly, just 10% of our time is spent on structured learning, such as courses, webinars and textbooks.
Away from writing, I work in learning and development, and in this role I assist organisations and staff in adopting the 70-20-10 model. Now, as a twice published children’s author, I believe this style of learning can help other people who want to succeed in the publishing industry.
My 10% of formal learning was one of my first real introductions to the Kid Lit world. Although I had been dabbling in children’s writing for a few years, I started to take it seriously when I enrolled in the Australian Writers’ Centre Writing Picture Books course. The course answered many technical questions (such as ‘how do you format a manuscript?’ and ‘what is the rule of three?’) and provided guidance on what steps to take next.
Formal learning does not always need to be the starting point on a learning journey, however the Writing Picture Books course is often the first place I direct people when they are keen to start writing for children.
Of course, everyone has their own preferred learning style, and sit-down courses are not always the right fit. Fortunately, there are plenty of other opportunities for formal learning, including podcasts, blogs, newsletters and webinars. All of these are plentiful within the Kid Lit community, where there is no shortage of people willing to share their expertise.
The Kid Lit community is strong, talented and friendly, and it is here that the 20% element – which is all about learning from others – comes into play.
Social learning could be a feedback session, collaboration, a conference, coaching or mentoring, and is probably my favourite part of any learning experience.
Once a month I take part in a face-to-face writing group. The structure of our group is to share a story, or part of a story, and then receive feedback. Everyone is kind but honest, and this process has helped me learn which parts of my writing are working and which aren’t. Of course, I still get it wrong, so I keep going back and, as a Lifelong Learner, will continue to do so.
And then there’s social media. I am a member of several online writing communities, where I have made some wonderful friends. They are probably the main reason I am still on certain social media sites! We ask questions like ‘what is another way to write ‘manifestation'?', ‘Has anyone heard back from the competition that closed last month,' and ‘How many cupcakes should I order for my book launch?'
These Communities of Practice (their technical name) provide a space to come together and share knowledge, resources and tools. The best Communities of Practice thrive because of an active and engaged membership, willing to not only answer questions, but to ask them too. I’ve worked with a lot of Communities of Practice over the years and none of them have functioned so well (or been as kind) as the Kid Lit ones I am a member of.
Not to be overlooked in the 20% category are also the networking events, conferences, meet-ups and good-old-fashioned-friendships, which all help sustain and enhance writers.
Lastly, there's the 70%. This is the time spent gaining expertise by carrying out the task itself. In a workplace it would be on-the-job experience. For me, it’s writing. It takes the largest chunk of my time, but is the quickest to explain.
I work on new manuscripts and refine old ones. This sometimes happens at my laptop, but also takes place in my head when I’m on the school run or if I get a story prompt as I jog round the park. I play with ideas, make fixes based on feedback I’ve had, experiment with characters, enter competitions, work on pitches and submit to publishers.
Each time I hit send on a submission, or hit delete on an idea that isn’t working, I’m learning.
So, what has been the result of my 70-20-10 learning journey?
For me, it has been three picture book contracts. My second picture book, I Spy Treasure, has recently been released, illustrated by Binny Talib and published by New Frontier Publishing.
I Spy Treasure would not have been written if I had not invested my time across all of the various learning opportunities available for Kid Lit writers.
The idea for the story came after an assessment at a conference. I used techniques that I learnt on the Writing Picture Books course and, before I submitted it, I critiqued it with my writing group. It is a culmination of everything I have learnt coming together.
Now, my Lifelong Learning continues.
I recently completed a follow-up course with the AWC (Presenting to Kids) and have my eye on a couple of others. My writing groups are (and will always be) an essential part of my process, and I continue to visit online communities daily, to listen to podcasts and read blogs and articles whenever I can.
Lastly, the largest chunk of my learning is spent, as it should be, on writing.
Vikki Marmaras is a children's author and Learning and Development Professional. Her second picture book, I Spy Treasure, has just been released. Captain Snarkle Tooth is a grouchy pirate who likes to spy and steal treasure. Treasure that no one else can see! Can Billy solve the mystery and learn to spy the sparkly treasure too? And is the villainous pirate as greedy as people think? Or is he taking the sparkles from the sea for a very different reason? You can follow Vikki's writing journey on Instagram via @vikkimarmarasbooks and through her website www.vikkimarmaras.com