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Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Five Ways to Think Like a Child (Or an Imaginative Writer)
by Andrea Mack


"Rolling pin," my toddler kept saying. We were on the front porch. There was no flour or dough in sight. "Rolling pin." It was one of those moments when I had no clue what my daughter was trying to say. Then she put her little arms around one of the pillars near the steps and I got it. She was noticing the cylindrical shape of the pillar, making one of those creative connections that children make.

A writer who can think like a child may have an edge when it comes to producing a memorable piece of writing. That's because young children are still learning about the world around them and they have an originality of thought that adults can only work to approximate. Children are also skilled at doing what writers aim for-creating imaginary worlds. For adults, it may not be so easy to slip out of ordinary life into a world of our own creation. But by training ourselves to think about the world the way children do, we can learn to capture some of that fresh thinking. Here are five characteristics of children's thinking that writers can put to good use:

1. Go With the Flow
Have you ever watched a young child playing? Ideas pour out of their mouths a mile a minute as they create scenarios for their action figures. They don't stop to worry if their choices are a good fit with what they're already doing. They just keep going, changing things along the way to incorporate new ideas or props. This "stream of consciousness" kind of thinking may be familiar to writers as a way to generate ideas. Getting into the habit of thinking this way, without self-editing or moralizing, makes it easier to slip away from the constraints of reality. It only takes a second for a child to transform three rocks on the beach into three friends searching for buried treasure. Children can make stories out of anything - an enviable ability.

2. Use Details
Children tend to notice things that many adults walk right past. The spider web in the corner. The unusual button on the teacher's sweater. The bug crawling up the car windshield. Getting into the habit of looking for these kinds of tiny details can help your writing. You find unusual things that you might otherwise have overlooked. For example, you spot a shoe on the side of the road. Why is it there? It might make an interesting image in a short story or it might spark an entire story by itself. If nothing else, adding small details to your writing has the effect of adding realism. This can give your writing the authenticity necessary to draw a reader in.

3. Be Multisensory
Young children are in tune with all of their senses. A baby turns her head to listen to a hammer tapping on a fence. She rubs sand between her fingers to feel its gritty texture. She sniffs crackers, cat food, even dirt. As adults, we take many of these sensations for granted. But as writers, they are exactly the kinds of things we need to think about. To be effective, our imaginary worlds need to include sounds, tastes, smells, and textures, as well as sights - just like the worlds of children.

4. Make Creative Connections
One of the challenges for producing interesting writing is to express universal emotions and ideas in new and different ways. As writers, we strive to limit the use of clichés or hackneyed expressions. Instead of "the forest was as black as night", we try to think up a creative alternative, such as "the trees were so thick sunlight could barely squeeze in."

One way of doing this is to make connections between things that you might not normally put together. Children do this all the time. Like my daughter and the "rolling pin" pillars on the porch, children make connections between things with similar shapes, similar motions, and similar textures. You may not want to say "The moon looked like a letter C" in your writing. But being open to a child's way of looking at the world helps to teach your mind to think in more creative ways, leading to more creative descriptions.

5. Express Emotions
If you do something a child doesn't like, you know about it instantly. Children react to events in observable ways. Their feelings are always ready to rise to the surface, unchecked by cultural conventions. An adult wouldn't normally stand screaming in the grocery store if she couldn't find what she wanted. But being able to easily access and describe emotion is important for writing. A novel where readers can identify with a character's feelings is more satisfying to a reader than one without an emotional component. The key is to create emotional reactions to events as well as thought-based ones.

In creating imaginary people and places, writers who can adopt a child's perspective gains access to a new set of experiences and ideas. Because of their more limited knowledge of the outside world, children's inner worlds are rich with sensations and conjecture. If we can manage to think this way even part of the time, our writing is bound to benefit.


Andrea L. Mack is a freelance writer/researcher and the mother of two avid readers. Her areas of expertise include writing, child development, parenting, literacy and gardening. She also writes fiction and nonfiction for children.


 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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