What you don’t say is often as important as what you do

I thought writing for kids would get easier with time. Every time I sit down to a new article, it’s still extremely hard. If you’re not sure how well you understand an idea, try explaining it in 10-12 simple sentences, only using words an average 7yo will understand, and without too much passive voice.

1000 characters always feels like too little, and my first instinct is to compress as much info as I can while avoiding difficult words. In result I get a few paragraphs completely stuffed with information. That’s not something a kid would enjoy reading.

The key to catching their attention is to identify 2-3 most important things that need to be said, and ignore all the rest. This is hard, partly because you can’t identify what’s most important about an idea without understanding it inside out. But even if you do, a lot of nuance will be lost, and it’s your job to graciously work around this nuance without saying things that are obviously false.

Is it okay to say Rosetta stone translators compared hieroglyphs to the same text in Greek? Greek letters and hieroglyphs don’t map 1:1, it was a whole different language they managed to decipher without knowing a single word in it. Will it mislead the kids if the riddle I include with the article will be in a single language, with each letter encoded as a hieroglyph separately? Will this give a false impression of how Rosetta stone actually worked like?

In theory I could add a disclaimer, but how many disclaimers can fit in an article that has 1000-1500 characters total? Is it really necessary? Perhaps the kids will care more about the main idea itself than about the facts being 100% correct? But what if some parent gets upset that I oversimplified a fact and call it out? Can I ever be sure that I don’t accidentally spread misinformation?

When writing for kids, what not to include suddenly becomes more important than the things you write. It’s finding the single most essential thing about an idea, throwing out all the important-but-not-essential facts, and simplifying everything else until it’s almost untrue. A part of me always cringes at all the compromises I have to make. But without the compromises, I wouldn’t be able to deliver any message at all.

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