Do you remember when magic was real? When you couldn’t wait for Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy to visit? And when maybe – just maybe – if you climbed into a wardrobe, you might be whisked away to a fantastical otherworld?
There is no doubt that childhood can be a most magical and marvellous time. But all too soon, we grow up and the Neverlands and Wonderlands slip away from us to be replaced by jobs, stress, bills and the Dreaded Responsibility. Sadly, it is all too easy to forget the magic and adventure which embraces childhood. As a result, constantly seeing the world through grown-up eyes can sometimes limit our perspective and imagination. If you want to write for children, it can help the creative process if you regularly remind yourself what is like to be a child – to reconnect with that sense of awe and imagination and wake up the sleeping child which lives inside you. But how could you do this? Try some of the following:
Play like a child.
Grown-ups tend to excel in busyness. Even when we are supposedly relaxing, our brains are often trying to come up with solutions to problems. Try and make some time to slow down and simply play like a child: in a sense, make time to just take your time. When was the last time you sat down and made a daisy chain? Or climbed a tree? Or rolled down a grass bank? Or jumped in a puddle? Step inside a child’s mind and rediscover why these things are fun. For more ideas, see the National Trust’s ‘50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾’ at www.50things.org.uk/ and forget the age limit!
Go for a walk in an inspiring setting, such as a wood, but instead of watching out for dog poo or trying to remember if you defrosted the chicken for dinner, focus on chatting with your imagination. What might live in the wood? What games or stories could your imagination dream up here? Imagine your childhood self is walking with you – what would you have done here when you were young?
If you’re feeling stuck for inspiration, take along a book to stimulate and prod your imagination. One summer my children and I climbed an extinct volcano on National Trust grounds and stopped at the beautiful wooded summit, known as ‘The Fairy Glade.’ We sat there among the trees and read ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C.S. Lewis. You could almost touch the magic in the air.
Don’t hinder your imagination.
If you’ve ever watched children play an imaginary game, you’ll marvel how quickly and easily the game materialises: how plots develop; how characters are created or adopted; and how fluent and dynamic it all is. The children don’t stop playing because they have run out of ideas (or because they really must hoover the living room). Their games simply explode with imagination. There is no restraint, no self-consciousness or self-doubt, and no limit to the imagination: a toilet tube becomes a telescope…a sofa becomes a spaceship…and, of course, there are zombies behind every tree…
Don’t let your busyness, doubt or fear of failure stop you from creating ideas and writing them down. Give your imagination permission to run riot; release the good ideas and the perhaps-in-hindsight-not-so-good ideas. You’ll have plenty of time to choose and edit later. Give your ideas room to grow without worrying too much about getting it perfect first time. Just enjoy the freedom of imagination. (If you still need convincing, listen to Gene Wilder singing ‘Pure Imagination’ from the 1971 film ‘Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’, based on Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’).
Remember your own childhood.
Think back to how you viewed life when you were young and make some notes. You may find some inspiration there. Think about questions like: How did you spend your spare time? What things were important to you? Which friends did you play with, real or imaginary? What did you think of school? What did you do on holiday and where did you go? Were there any interesting or memorable events which happened in your childhood? Do you remember any particular fears? Did you believe in ghosts? If so, what did you think they were like? Perhaps you were afraid of the dark – how did that affect you as a child and did your imagination run away with you into the night? Did you go looking for adventure? Do you remember any situations where your imagination landed you in trouble? Perhaps there is a story inspired by your own childhood that is waiting to be written.
Analyse your favourite childhood books.
Think about the books you liked to read when you were a child or the stories you liked to hear. What were your favourites? Why do you think they appealed to you as a child? How did they engage your imagination? And if you could write a story for your childhood self, what would it be about?
- Connect with children today
As well as remembering the child of your past, don’t forget the children of the present. Although imagination itself is beautifully timeless, everything else around it changes and moves on – children today live in a very different world to the one you and I grew up in. But even if you have little or no regular contact with children, you can still find ways to connect with today’s children. Dedicate some time to reading as many children’s books as you can and also watch some children’s films or television programmes. This will help keep you in touch with what children are currently enjoying and may well trigger off some new ideas of your own.
It may feel strange at first to temporarily shelve the grown-up mentality in favour of a more childlike perspective but as with most things, the more you do it, the easier it will become. Before you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, you’ll be heading for the second star on the right and going straight on till morning. And by reconnecting with the child that you once were, you will hopefully open up many new worlds of possibilities in your own writing. Wishing you many magical adventures as you do so.
After you’ve woken up the sleeping child inside you, take some time out from tree-climbing and swashbuckling adventures with the cat to actually do some writing. Choose an aspect of childhood and explore it, for example:
- Imaginary friends
- An adventure you had (or would like to have had) when you were young
- Believing in magic
- Fear of the dark
Brainstorm or draw a spidergram around the subject, considering emotions which might be involved, your own personal memories, potential story plots or conflicts and any other information about the topic you can think of. Is there something there which could be developed into a story? Can you think of a character for the story?