Permission to Act (or at least think) Like a Child
Many times over the last few years, I’ve lamented that I didn’t start writing when I was younger. But after reading Wally Lamb’s recent interview in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest, I think I understand why. When asked about imagination, Lamb credited his wife, saying that she took care of many of the responsible aspects of their lives together, giving him space to create. He spoke of Dorothea Brande’s book Becoming A Writer, saying that Brande “thought that the fiction writer is both the child and the adult, and if you try to be the adult before you allow yourself to be the child, then you’re going to cut yourself off — you’re not going to be able to create.”
That idea made a lot of sense to me as I thought of the many years that I wanted to write but seemed unable to do so. I’d grown up quick and, without realizing it, shut down that childlike side. The more I’ve given myself over to writing in recent years, the more I’ve experienced the playful wonder that I left behind.
Lamb said that Brande went on to say “…you have to give that child — the child that is in you as a writer — the freedom initially before you can become the responsible adult.”
Amen to that! I’ve got the responsible adult part down, but letting go and allowing the childlike part of me take over? Whoa. Not easy. But it must be important because I caught a similar thread when I heard Bobby McFerrin interviewed by Krista Tippet for her show On Being this morning.
McFerrin said that he understands that he is entrusted with a talent and that he must take care of it by doing his best. “By [doing my] best,” McFerrin said, “it means I’m myself. I’m as close to my genuine self as possible.” And the “best way to be genuine is…to be ourselves and be childlike.” McFerrin talked about coaching young people in improvisation and how he tells them not to think that they are performing, but to simply be themselves.
My interpretation is that by being our true selves, by setting aside the expectations we perceive from others or from ourselves, we can tap into our creative side. The paradox is that while we are children, we are in a hurry to become adults. Then we must work our way back toward that open way of accessing creativity that comes so naturally to children. For adults, it takes courage to open that door and see what will walk through.
McFerrin spoke of the importance of improvisation in developing courage. He tells his students to set a timer and sing for ten minutes. He warns them that by two minutes in they will need to fight all tendencies to stop. In fact, he says that every part of your being will scream for you to stop. He says to continue. Do not give up. Do it every day for three weeks.
Julia Cameron’s morning pages in her book The Artist's Way offer a parallel activity for writers. Write three pages each morning upon waking. Don’t think, don’t judge and don’t stop. In fact, Cameron's book is all about working your way back to your creative side and the workbook offers tangible steps toward building a creative life.
Another paradox of the creative life is that you need to keep showing up (be the responsible adult) in order for the creative side (the child) to show up. The good news is that once the font is opened, you won’t run dry. Maya Angelou said: "You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have."
(Writer's Digest image from wallylamb.net, Bobby McFerrin image from onbeing.org, picasso image from rugusavay.com)