If you missed last week's post, I shared ten things I learned In John Claude Bemis's writing class at Table Rock Writers retreat. John also spoke to the entire group on, “What Creative People Can Learn From Children.” After quoting Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once we grow up,” John shared ten ways writers should emulate children. In this post you’ll read his first five points with pictures and videos illustrating his points, courtesy of my grandchildren. Next week this series concludes with John’s last five points and the giveaway of his book, The Prince Who Fell From the Sky.
First of all, kids love to play—it’s basically their job! Children make up games on the playground and in their own backyards. Their dolls and trucks act out fascinating stories as children “disappear into their imaginations through play.”
Libbie & Caitlin Kasten as princesses.
In the same way, adults also need time to play. Companies like 3M and Google have found that giving their employees time to pursue individual interests, take a walk, or even play pinball leads to more innovative work. “Google claims that 50% of their new products come from ‘Innovative Time Off,” John noted.
Play also increases problem-solving ability. A study found that preschoolers were more apt to figure out an unfamiliar gadget than college students because they played with it.
What does this mean to us as writers? Make sure you do something fun each day. Don’t be afraid to play with your work. “Don’t stick to your first pass at the story….Have fun making your writing better.”
Secondly, everything is brand new to a child. These years are a “time of great wonder and stimulation.” When we’re running down an idea for the first time, the newness “sparks our curiosity and creativity.” John explained that from a neuroscience perspective, our brains are building synapses, which boosts creativity and makes our brains function better. John recommended playing a new game, learning a new instrument, or traveling to a foreign country. Citing his own recent trip to Rwanda, John said travel “gets you out of your normal rules and challenges you to be flexible.” He experienced a huge creative bump when he returned home—and wrote like a maniac!
Third, kids embrace ambiguity. To them a pen can be a wand, a sword, a dragon bone, or a bridge. We’ve all seen kids playing with a box rather than the toy that was inside.
Why? The toy has a
specific purpose—but the box can be anything. John said this was the type of
creative thinking that allowed Picasso to pick up bicycle handles and see a
|Ebby and Mason Clark having |
fun in their box-train.
John recommended that writers should embrace ambiguity as a source of discovery. Perhaps a typo on a page can lead you to a new idea. Flipping through magazines or pictures in the Apples to Apples game may stimulate a new path for your writing. “The ambiguity loving part of our brain can make wildly original connections if we just let it.”
|Mason as a Ninja|
with his two swords.
Young kids think they’re good at everything, leading them to explore a wide variety of interests.
Unfortunately, when kids hit middle school, they begin to form a sense of identity based on what they think they are and aren’t good at. They say things like, “I’m not an athlete. I’m no good at math.” As we age, our interests tend to narrow, constricting our choices. As writers, we need to keep expanding our horizons.
Fifth, kids are less self-critical. They think they’re great artists, writers, athletes, musicians and we wouldn’t dare contradict them!
This type of blind confidence makes a person keep doing something over and over again. Some writers dream of becoming NY Times Bestsellers. This confidence helps them work hard and push through discouragements during their early years.
Caitlin describing her artwork
When you hear that self-critical voice whisper in your ear, “You’ll never get published,” remember the self-confidence and stamina you had as a child. “To be successful, you have to be persistent. And to be persistent, you have to manage the negative thoughts that want to keep us from continuing to try.”