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.
Great post--a good one to read first this morning! I often see the wonder of things new through the eyes of the little ones in our family. It's such fun :-) Thanks for the lift...ReplyDelete
Glad to give you a boost there, Kenda! Yes, that is the wonder about having little ones around as we get older - it reminds us of how we used to view the world, and can once again.Delete
Nice post, Donna. It sounds like you got into a really great head-space during your retreat!! I sometimes use mindfulness as a way to rekindle the connection between my adult-self and child-self, whether during actual writing or in everyday life activities, especially when I'm trying to fit writing into and between and among my job and other commitments.ReplyDelete
Paul, using mindfulness is a great way to do this too because it's a non-judgemental way of connecting our child self to our adult self. When we have precious time to write and get in the state of being we need - focusing on our thoughts (and accepting them) and just "being in the moment" can fill our bucket up with what we need to write. Thanks for the note about that!Delete
What a joy-filled post! I am always very childlike (or so my kids keep telling me)--probably why I love reading and writing books for children! That's not to say that the adult world doesn't impinge from time to time (doing taxes, anyone?). Thanks for the list on how to keep/regain that sense of wonder!ReplyDelete
Ughh...I think my happy-meter fell a bit with that word "taxes" - the doom of being a grown up you can never get rid of. ha ha. But glad to give you some joy today, Michael. I love being silly with my son and finding childlike wonder in that - and I revel in boy-humor (much more so than my husband)...I probably should have been born a boy!Delete
Sorry about the happy meter!Delete
Nothing like falling in the snow and creating those angels to make you feel like a kid again.ReplyDelete
Clee, absolutely! Plus looking up at the sky gives you a whole different perspective (just watch out for falling too hard)Delete
Wish I remembered what it was like to be amazed by the little things. That is definitely something I'd like to get back. They say, youth is wasted on the young.ReplyDelete
Edward, that line always reminds me of the movie It's A Wonderful Life where the crotchety man on the porch huffs off after Jimmy Stewart jabbers on and on with his gal!Delete
I don't think I would be as much fun going back to be young with the grownup knowledge I now carry...I would definitely not take as many risks, having learned since that I am not, after all, invincible! I am the lady at the concert now telling everyone to "please sit down and be quiet" so I can hear the music...I guess I want peace and quiet to enjoy the little things now :) And I'm OK with that.
Every time our family drives through the Lehigh Tunnel on our way to or from the Poconos, my younger daughter tries to see if she can hold her breath all the way through. Meanwhile, my older daughter breathes deeply and exclaims, "Boy, am I enjoying my oxygen! Oxygen is great, right, Dad? Don't you love your oxygen, Mom?" until we all bust out laughing, including the one who can't hold her breath anymore.ReplyDelete
THAT is the joy of childhood. And they're almost 15 and 18 years old. The joke never grows old -- for any of us. THAT is what we need to hold on to when we write. Great post, Donna!
Dianne, that whole oxygen dialogue is soooo funny! Love that idea of never letting the joke grow old indeed. The Lehigh Tunnel is a great drive through - especially approaching it at dusk through the mountains. :)ReplyDelete
Donna....your smile is a child-at-heart on display! Great post, and thanks for sharing your stories!ReplyDelete
I am currently wrestling Blogger over the comment settings, by the way ...ReplyDelete
I have Word Verification turned off, but I'm still getting it. %$^%$^%
There goes my child-like wonder ...
Dianne, thanks for zapping us with your wonder to do figure this out! :)ReplyDelete
Connecting with child-like wonder while addressing the stress-filled demands of adulthood—sounds like the key to a successful and joy-filled life, Donna! Some great takeaways here. #7 reminds me of a time up at the lake when we couldn't get the fancy new fireplace to work so, to access the greater hive mind, I stood on the hearth and read the direction to my family aloud, "with dramatic flair"...ReplyDelete
Kathryn, I can see you standing there on the hearth commanding quite the audience! I would be captivated and forget I was cold to begin with...now I'm off to find my child-like wonder in nailing down this synopsis for a new book. Line by line drudgery...oops, I mean, magic :)ReplyDelete
Wonderful post, Donna! This resonates so deeply with me. And I love that Aslan was your childhood hero! I remember standing in my front yard and trying to call to him the way Jill and Eustace do in The Silver Chair. I must've been about 6. Welcome to the Mayhem. It's good to have you with us.ReplyDelete
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on how important wonder and joy are to the creative process. Creating anything and doing it well is hard work. This is a good reminder to maintain joy no matter what the circumstances. Also, I love the idea of finding a quiet and private place to read and act out a work in progress. Can't think of a better way to think through a piece of writing from the reader's perspective. Looking forward to reading your next blog!ReplyDelete
Joanna, how wonderful! I used to call to Aslan too...and hide in closets to find a door to another world. Thanks for the nice note!ReplyDelete
Kate, it's sometimes so hard to keep our wonder and joy in writing. I remember the first book I wrote. And how I wrote it from 4:30-6:30am Monday-Friday and in 7 months had a book. I didn't know any writers then. I hadn't taken one class on how to write a book. I just wrote in my own space and world for ME. Each day I never knew what would happen on the page! Near the end I slowed down so my characters wouldn't leave me. Each day I couldn't wait to get up to that space again and create. I yearn for those days now and keep trying to find ways to get back to that simple joy again. It is a challenge! And I love to hear other ideas by other folks on how to keep that joy - and wonder. :)ReplyDelete
So inspiring, Donna! I love your list to recapture wonder. Seems like good advice for life let alone writing. :)ReplyDelete