Childlike wonder. What was yours as a kid? I walked along rock walls under the stars at night when the whole world was asleep. Climbed trees as high as I could to sing songs to the woods. And hid away in rose bush caves with a notepad to write my stories – all the while believing that magic existed.
|My son still knows how to find his childlike wonder.
What evokes childlike wonder? And as adults writing for children, how can we recapture that?
Regaining a childlike sense of wonder isn’t about returning to a childlike state, it’s about letting yourself be awed by the little things in your grownup life. The mundane every day is what can dull our wonder. And just because those little things happen every day doesn’t mean they aren’t miraculous.
But keeping your childlike wonder can be difficult when grownup duties mount. Recently, in a pressure-cooker twist I had final proofs to revise and edit on book one in my fantasy series, Joshua and the Lightning Road, and was committed to deliver book two on the same day. Did I say “same day”? I did. Zap! Zap!
With two books due on February 1st I had to grasp the wonder again.
So I ran away to a secret lodge to get it all done. I wallowed in editing drudgery. Line by line. Word by word. Character by character. Emotional moment by emotional moment.
Book one was the story I spent three years writing and revising with a developmental editor then, after I got an agent and book deal for it, was presented with additional story edits – all over again. Book two was the story I wrote in six months and had six weeks to revise – and know what needed to be done. But did I? Could I?
And somewhere in my editing elbow grease I lost what the stories had become. I was amuck in a mopping muddlement! Words to eliminate. Sentences to re-arrange. Ensure consistent details through the series. Repetitive scenes to cut and move. Find and replace. And…repeat.
Each day through my prison window I rattled my chains and watched two kids sled. Up and down the hill they went. And their laughter and joy snapped me out of my trapped trance. I remembered being ten years old and how a whole day of sledding was magical. I also remembered turning twelve and sad with the awareness that I didn’t want to sled anymore. I had moved on, just like we move on into adulthood.
And I realized now that in order to do my job well as a children’s author, and to find joy in it, I needed to rekindle my kid wonder again. Just as I pondered this, a video of babies going through tunnels popped up in my Facebook feed. I couldn’t help but laugh at their wonder. And I thought, as writers of middle grade, how can we keep that kind of wonder with us?
My wonder list:
Me with my lion ring. I
found wonder in my hero then,
Aslan, the lion from The Lion,
the Witch and the Wardrobe.
1. Re-visit pictures of ourselves as kids. Daydream about what we were doing in those photos. What we were excited about?
2. Did you write diaries as a child or teen? Go back and read them to inspire that voice of youth in your own writing.
3. Look at the world from a different perspective. Like that tunnel. Like the snow. I went out in it and made a snow angel and looked up at the sky. Something I hadn’t done in years.
4. Create a new bucket list together with our kids or grandkids. What do they dream of doing that we could do with them?
5. Read stories by our own children, or grandchildren, to see how they view the world in their words.
6. Revive memories of being the age of our characters. Draw a map of the neighborhood we grew up in. Remember what we saw, what we felt, and how we reacted to events there and write them down.
7. Act out a scene in our book, or any book, with dramatic flair.
8. Face a childhood fear (mine was going down in our dark 200-year-old cellar where I was sure dead bodies were buried in the dark hole in the wall).
So what did I pick to do on my retreat? I paced and read my books aloud, acting them out with great dramatic flair. I became the hero running for his life (in my son’s voice of course) and his fierce but loyal mentor (Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit) and the bad guy (Liam Neeson).
And I remembered how awesome it was to be a kid again and lost in the moment. And that every day as a kid was about being lost in the magical moments. Kind of like tiny miracles over and over – in the little things.
So…I made my deadline.
I turned in the best stories I could for my Joshua and the Lightning Road series with the time that I had.
And on my way home at dusk through the snow covered Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Tunnel loomed in twilight. Its lights were ablaze in the dark. I raced through it like a wide-eyed rider surfing a lightning road. Fitting I think. And I was once again, lost in the wonder – and the small things.