Thursday, December 12, 2013
What Kids Can Teach You about Writing
Reviewed by OFW editor:
Published: December 04, 2012
As a child, I recall all of the rules that I felt prevented me from being free to do whatever I wanted. I used to wish I could grow up fast so that I could experience everything without a grownup around to ruin the fun. But years later, as I watch my own kids, I realized that children have a type of freedom that adults rarely get to enjoy; the freedom to escape into their imaginations, unfettered by morals, societal norms and such. Children can create a world and lose themselves in it for hours at a time. They’re constantly learning and growing and, best of all, children are filled with wonder.
Guess what, writers; you and I can still do that. Each time we write, we revive that curious, optimistic and imaginative child inside of us. Our world can be whatever we want it to. It can include characters of all species and genders and anything can happen. The problem is that many of us forget how to tap into our inner child. We get stuck in a rut that prevents us from writing the most wildly imaginative tale possible, because we worry that it might not be believable.
The trick is to let that factor slip away for a time. Worry about believability later. Forget about responsibilities and consequences and just write. This is the most effective way I’ve found to brainstorm ideas. Sure, the stories that are created have their issues, but the ideas they generated for later works have been priceless.
Writing is the one time we don’t have to act our age. Actually, we never have to act our age. When did we start believing such a rule existed? Have you forgotten how to think like a child? There’s an easy fix to that. Let me share five lessons on improving your writing that I’ve learned from my children:
Celebrate Your Real Age
Remember how birthdays used to be an exciting event? As we grow older, they become more painful than a root canal, but why? Life is a journey and birthdays should serve as a reminder of what you’ve learned and achieved, not an omen that the journey is coming to an end. How depressing. Instead of avoiding your birthday, celebrate it. Make a list of everything you’ve done and learned that year, and what you plan to achieve in the following year. Congratulate yourself and embrace the sense of accomplishment each birthday should bring. That excitement and anticipation of what’s around the corner is vital to life and to writing good fiction.
Always. Question. Everything. Watch a toddler or preschooler and notice how these funny little creatures question everything. Even the most mundane, seemingly obvious ideas are fascinating to them. Kids wonder about how everything works and where it came from, so catch the wonder-bug and do the same. You should never stop being curious. Visit a place that intrigues you. Research a concept that you find hard to understand. Get to know someone new. There are many ways to keep yourself curious, but the easiest way is to keep the how and why of everything in the front of your mind.
Okay, it’s tough to believe in things like Santa and the Easter Bunny once you have kids, but that doesn’t mean magic has to disappear from your life once you’ve grown up. Even grown up lives have room for magic and mystery. While it deals in facts and not magic, science is actually pretty fascinating and amazing. If that doesn’t spark anything, consider the things that science can’t explain. Give yourself permission to believe in the things that haven’t been proven true or false. Believe in the bizarre and the extraordinary. Kids have a non-jaded view of the world that makes things seem so open and possible. Writers have to be able to recapture that view in order to imagine every possibility a story might hold.
Stop Looking Behind You
Children are comfortable with their bodies and their movements. Watch them for a while. Though they might be clumsy or awkward, they don’t think before they leap, or worry how it looks when they fly. They just do it. Focus on the fun of just being and take a plunge without worrying about what others will think of your form. Worrying about how silly you’ll look or how good you’ll be at something holds you back from achieving great things. Why not just leap instead?
God I miss naps. Don’t you miss naps? Well, why can’t we still take one now and then? Children devote their energy to play, and when they’re tired or hungry, they simply stop playing and satisfy those needs. Adults push themselves physically and mentally, believing that if we try just a little bit harder, work that much longer, we’ll achieve our goals. Well, when the internal alarms are saying you need rest, you’re not likely to achieve much of anything. If you do, how enjoyable will it be when you’re too tired to celebrate? Stop writing when you’re spent, go to the sofa or your bed, and relax. You don’t have to nap, but give your brain a break when it tells you it needs one. Creativity is kind of like a battery. Now and then it needs to recharge.
Apart from all of these smaller lessons, what I’ve learned is that kids view life in such an uncomplicated way that they often see the answers long before the adults around them do. They don’t need reasons or excuses for why they can’t do something, they simply find a way around that obstacle, or they look for innovative or new ways to learn and grow toward what they want. Writers need to do the same.
So enjoy just being. Ask how and why when you’re curious. Embrace the childlike joy of looking at things upside down and inside out. Don’t be afraid to fail or you’ll never succeed.
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