What Kids Can Teach You About Writing… And Life

Over the weekend we had some house guests– a friend of ours and her 3 daughters. Spending time with the kids was wonderful (and a little exhausting! I don’t know how parents do it…), but the most interesting part of the weekend was realizing that there are some things you can learn from kids about how to approach your writing practice and life in general.

Here’s what I took away from this weekend:

  • Keep trying until you get it, and always challenge yourself. Our little 4-year-old honorary niece is a puzzle whiz, always has been. She doesn’t need any help putting a 75-piecer together and she doesn’t quit until she finishes. I’m always amazed at how she chugs along with her puzzles, referencing the picture on the box and sorting the pieces until it’s totally assembled. When we were looking at puzzles at the store, I held up a 25-piece puzzle and showed it to her. Then I said, “Would this be to easy for you?” And she said yes. She was right; the 75-piece one that we ended up taking home was challenging, but not so hard that she couldn’t do it. Think about that with writing. How many writers give up after a few difficult days, weeks, months? We get a rejection and we feel crushed so we stop trying. Or we find something easy and sure and we stick with that, never extending ourselves to the harder writing tasks. I think that applies to life, as well. Are you giving yourself the opportunity to be challenged and succeed at the challenge?
  • Be curious about everything. Kids see the world as a fascinating, enormous place worth exploring. They always want to go outside (at least these kiddos did), run, look at things, pretend the deck is a balcony on a castle, ask questions. If something doesn’t make sense, they inquire about it. If something is new to them, they want to understand it. Holy cow, this is important with writing. I’m trying to be as curious and inquisitive as possible now: I have a stack of 16 books from the library sitting on my coffee table, most of them about query writing and copy writing. I’m curious and I have questions, so in addition to taking on e-course on magazine writing, I’m reading books, blogs, websites, tweets. We have to be curious if we want to grow, don’t you think?
  • Be honest. Kids say it like it is. This doesn’t mean they’re cruel at all, it simply means they don’t filter the way adults do. Be honest about what you want from your writing and be honest about who you are when you’re writing and the rest falls into place. Come from a childlike place of honesty and see what happens. When you find yourself holding back, that’s usually the very place you should explore and write from, no matter how hard it is.
  • Find the energy you need. God, the energy. They never run out of it. And while I realize it’s hard to be an adult and have that kind of stamina, we should try. You have to find the energy. Kids could be ready to fall asleep, but if you mention that you want to head to the playground, they’re awake and bounding around the room in 2 seconds flat. Hello, writers. (Hello, me!) Have some of what they’re having. Find that excited, ready energy when you need it and channel it into your queries, your novel, your revisions, your blog– whatever. Just approaching a project with zest and sizzle can infuse the project with life. And if you can’t muster up the excited energy… maybe the project just doesn’t ring your bell and isn’t worth your time.
  • Don’t always do what you’re told. Sure they listen and follow rules most of the time, but kids know when to smile, nod, and carry on with the naughty thing they were doing before. Hey guys— there are no rules in writing (or life). There are suggestions, guidelines, methods that work for some people, but if you’re always doing what you’re told, you might miss out on the renegade thing that will really work for you. Be a rebel once in a while. It could be good for you.
  • Have an imagination and don’t limit your creativity. I remember being a kid and creating entire worlds around a big cardboard box or a sofa cushion fort in the living room. We stop seeing the potential magic in ordinary objects as we get older, but maybe we need to harness a little bit of that creativity when we’re trying to write or improve our lives. Kids don’t care how crazy and unrealistic their ideas seem to others; they just go with it and enjoy the experience. Maybe you see a laundry basket but a child sees a sailboat being tossed around on rough seas during a storm. What could happen with your writing life if you saw the blank page as a potential adventure instead of a terrifyingly empty expanse of uncharted land? Hmm. Food for thought.
What are some things about writing you’ve learned from kids in your life?

One thought on “What Kids Can Teach You About Writing… And Life”

  1. Despite the fact that in general, I and kids do not mix very well, I can certainly see the value in each of these lessons. But I am particularly fond of the final two. Like children, writers need to remember certain rules in order to stay safe and not get lost. But in general it is that child-like skepticism and discontent for established norms, (even those set down by “authorities” in the field) that will allow a writer to more quickly find his or her voice. And finding the voice is the first, most crucial step to successful writing.

    In fact, I dare say that in the end, all of the lessons from children you describe here could, in some way, be boiled down to the concept of being authentic to your vision of the world, regardless.


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