On Becoming Childlike to Write

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by Kristina on Flickr

I used to dumb myself down.  Choose my words carefully before I spoke.  Give my honor roll ribbon to a friend to wear.  Hide that my favorite past-time was reading.  I couldn’t spoil my image – a fun-loving girl who was NOT a nerd.

But that was back in high school.  I don’t do that anymore.  Except when I write.

So what does it mean to dumb myself down to write?  It means to pay attention.  To stop thinking and planning.  To stop taking things for granted.  To see the unexpected in the expected.

As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, “You have to be dumb to write.  You carry that slow person inside who needs time.  That person who would stand out in the rain and watch a puddle with no hat on, and to feel the drops on her scalp.”

Reminds me of the time in 6th grade when a friend and I took the path through a drenching rain to math class and not the expected covered one.  Quite a lecture on “no common sense whatsoever” ensued.  Giggling (and shivering) we slid into our desks.  Maybe we were dumb that day but we’d never felt so alive in math class.

I think a better term than dumb might be to become more childlike as we take in life.  When my son was six we were on a family outing to Atlanta one misty fall day.  I was in the backseat with he and his older sister.  We couldn’t see the tops of the tall buildings because of the fog that settled on them, and craned our necks upward in fascination. After observing this phenom for a few seconds, he exclaimed, “Mom!  They’ve been erased!”

Startled, I realized he was spot-on.  That’s exactly how it appeared, as if a giant art eraser had zigzagged across the skyline erasing the tops of buildings and leaving uneven lines behind. That’s better than any description I could come up with.  My son connected his first grade world of smudged erasures on manuscript paper with Atlanta skyscrapers on a foggy day.

Last week my four-year-old grandson visited.  It was his lucky day because it was Trash Day.  As he always does when he hears the screeching brakes of the trash truck, he sped to the large window in the dining room which offers the best view of the street.  Again?  Didn’t we just do this last month?  Nevertheless, I followed to see what he saw:

The angled-arms of the red monster reached down and snagged the green trash receptacle around its middle.  Upward, it rode, until it paused high above the truck’s flat top.  The top slipped open and the hateful arms spun the trash container just enough so its clattering contents could be emptied into the monster truck’s belly, which was growling with hunger.

What fun!  That simple exercise impacted my whole day. Casting aside the day’s agenda for a moment or two goes a long way toward opening our creative passageways.  A statistic says that 90% of children age five and under are highly creative.  But that by adulthood, only 2% of us are.

Let’s fight back.  Let’s approach our surroundings with the eyes of a child, open to see the world as it is.  Get a little dumb on occasion, take a walk in the rain, and remember.

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5 responses »

  1. I really like this. It makes me think about lots of things from childhood and how those very creative descriptions can spur some incredible writing!

  2. Excellent post! I couldn’t agree more. I can remember traveling on the highways when I was kid and all the cars and trucks seemed to have different faces on the front end. Some were scary and some were funny. It’s harder to see them now. Maybe I’ll do a little road trip research!

  3. Sounds like heaven. A walk in the rain unfettered by coats, hats and umbrellas is a kind of freedom and reconnection with nature, I love it. Taking time to stand and stare, like the poet W.H. Davies says in his poem ‘Leisure’.

    It doesn’t rain here often, but a few nights ok my husband and son came to visit my daughter and I in hospital and we decided to sit outside in the garden. As the dark descended we moved to a bench seat and suddenly the sprinklers came on. My 8 year old son was in his pyjamas and suddenly ran out into the middle of the lawn, racing through the arcs of sprinkling water, shouting with joy. From our seat we could see the silhouette of his slim, lanky frame and we could all feel the immense joy that his liberating sprint was creating. He went home in wet pyjamas, but we all felt uplifted by the experience and I know it will be there to replay in my mind for a long time.

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, ladies.
    Janie, I downloaded your Tips for Creative Readers ebook and look forward to reading it.
    Melanie, I love the idea of cars with faces. I can see them! How’s your writing going?
    And Claire, I know you’ll nurture your son’s creative spirit. How many times did I squelch my children’s unbridled displays of joy in the moment?

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