Remember as a kid how you would play? A stick suddenly became a sword, your bike your faithful steed beneath you as you raced up to slay the dragon and rescue the beautiful princess. A broken cup and saucer suddenly became High Tea at Buckingham Palace. A trip across the backyard became a daring exploration through the rainforest, filled with crocodiles and jaguars and raging rivers. How you’d play for hours and hours and hours until your parents had to drag you back inside kicking and screaming? You’d spend those hours playing, without a care for the time that was passing. For whether you were ‘playing right’. For what other ‘productive’ things you could have been doing.
When a kid is playing with that stick, it’s no longer a stick. It IS a sword. There is a river. There is a crocodile. It’s not just ‘we’re going to pretend it is because we have nothing better’. It IS that object. And they believe it wholeheartedly, with a faith few adults can come close to. That same imaginative faith applies to stuffed animals and imaginary friends. Ever read Calvin and Hobbes? To Calvin, Hobbes WAS a tiger. Even though he interacted with him as a stuffed animal, in his mind he was flesh and blood and fur.
Kids see beyond reality. Not to what a thing is, but to what it could be. And then they make that possibility real, even if it’s only in their own minds. This is the power of a child’s imagination. Their power of creation.
As writers, especially fiction writers, we need to have that same power of creation. We need to see beyond the reality that lays in the world around us, to the stories and possibilities that lie behind it. That is how we are inspired as writer’s. That’s where, for a lot of us, our stories are born.
Unfortunately, as adults, a lot of us have lost our ability to create.
I have always loved to write, from the first memories that I can still dredge up into my head. Yet I went through a very long stretch of my life where I didn’t write, or at least, didn’t write with any passion or conviction. I struggled for a very long time with undiagnosed chronic anxiety and depression. And while that’s a story for another blog post, I can tell you one of the things I most struggled with. Following the rules so that I pleased other people.
I became so obsessed with following all the ‘rules’, in being a ‘good person’, in being a ‘good adult’ that I lost that part of myself that was a child. I lost my hope. I lost my spirit. I became so stressed out trying to be responsible and level headed and ‘adult’, I gave up on the things that made me a writer. My love of weird stuff. My spontaneity. My hope. My openness to see crazy things in the world around me. My anxiety told me I was worthless as a writer, my depression made me feel hopeless and drained, and I didn’t want to write, and my obsession with the rules meant I was so obsessed with writing ‘correctly’ that I’d take three hours to write one page because it had to be ‘perfect’. Needless to say, over years and years of this my creativity suffered immensely. My love of writing stopped. I had nothing to write because I couldn’t get inspired. I couldn’t create anymore.
When I was a kid I was plenty creative. I remember playing zoo with my brother, and we were the animals. I remember playing African Queen (we’d watched the movie with my mom), using the bathtub for our river boat. I remember playing we were ranchers with the cats as cows (by the way, cats don’t herd well). I remember falling so deep into my fantasy books they seemed almost truer reality than the reality I lived in.
We all have that ability to see things for what they could be. To create and craft new realities, new worlds, new stories from whatever we see around us. We are all born with that. Yet as we grow we let things (like rules, anxiety, responsibilities) convince us that it’s wrong to think like that. And slowly, year by year, that childlike flame of creation that lives in all of us dies a little. Until it’s so small it’s like it’s not even there. And all we can see around is the literally reality of the world.
That loss of creativity impacts our lives. The lives of every human being, not just writers. But especially as writers, because that is what writing is. Creating! Even for the non-fiction people, you need to be inspired to create a book. To find a topic. To research. To write it in such a way, to craft it, to weave your tale that it draws the reader in and makes it real to them. Relevant. And for fiction writers? What do we have to write if we cannot create? We craft and mold everything in our worlds, from the characters to the land to the emotions and words and languages.
Email Liz Jeffries