Monday, August 10, 2015

The Importance of Imagination and Play in Writing

Years ago, I traveled to a library to talk about storytelling with a group of children.

It was my first time, and I was so nervous.


Why? Because children can be brutally honest. Unlike adults, they haven't had time to develop a filter to which they feed their opinions before spewing them out (though these days, a lot of adults have forgotten their filters, but I digress). I was worried the children would be bored or rude or want to be anywhere but in a library--on a Saturday afternoon no less.

But I was wrong.

As I approached a long conference table, I was met with a full house of children with wide eyes, stacks of paper, and pencils and pens at the ready.

After I introduced myself, I went around the table and had the children introduce themselves. Many talked about why they loved writing. Some of them even wanted to be writers.

We talked about their favorite stories, favorite characters. We talked about setting, plot, conflict, and other storytelling elements, and I found them eager to learn the components.

Toward the end of the presentation, I had the children write their own stories. I gave them a character, a setting, and a conflict, and off they went, scribbling furiously upon the paper.

I couldn’t help but to smile as they wrote. I watched as some looked toward the ceiling, thinking hard. Some had their foreheads nearly touching the paper they wrote upon. Others showed their writing to neighbors and giggled.

There was a joy there. It was as if they were using their entire beings to create the stories they wrote.

In spending that afternoon with these young, budding writers, I learned several things, but two have stuck very close to me as a writer:

  1. Use all of your IMAGINATION—there are no limits.
  2. Even if writing is “work,” integrate PLAY into the process.

Images by Sicha Pongjivanich/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Often as writers, we can become complacent, find ourselves in a rut and not know how to pull ourselves out. We might be afraid to try something different, like a new genre, or a new form. These children jumped into writing as a form of play, and in doing so, it activated all of their senses. Did some of the stories not make sense? Oh, most definitely. As I had each child read his/her story, we all spent a good deal of time laughing at the unlikelihood of some of the story events even happening. But the absurdity of the story didn’t stop the children from writing. They stayed on the page. They wrote until I called time's up.

Even with deadlines and writer’s block, and agents and editors on our heels asking for new material, we should remember to be playful, to be unencumbered with our words as we spin tales. Let that joy and exuberance and imagination feed the desire to write… and to keep on writing.

Do you add PLAY and IMAGINATION to your writing process? If so, how?



Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.

15 comments :

  1. How good that you helped these kids learn that writing should be fun. When my kids were little, we wrote stories even before they could write -- they dictated and I transcribed. Then they'd draw a picture to go with the story.

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    1. Thank, Terry. I was scared, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The way they worked to put all of themselves into their stories really warmed my heart.

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  2. Little kids love to tell stories. Both of my children were encouraged to write their own and they would illustrate them and put them into little books to keep. I treasure them. I once spent a two-hour car ride with my three-year old granddaughter, at the "why" stage explaining the plot of Labyrinth (a movie about a Goblin King that steals a girl's brother to teach her to appreciate what she has). If you need to know if you have plot holes, just describe your story to a three-year-old. They will find them all.

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    1. I LOVE the ending of your comment, Diana! LOL Because it is SO true. Children will WHY you through every plot hole you need filled!

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  3. In our mad rush toward adulthood, we too often put away our imaginations. (How imaginative do you have to be to play video games?) When I worked as a theme reader with students grades 4-12 in a Washington state school district, I marveled at the imaginations of the younger ones. The older they were, the less imaginative they seemed to be. One class of advanced high school seniors were given an assignment to present their take on "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost. Obviously, teacher input and/or class discussion preceded the writing, for these 28 or so "bright" students wrote papers that could best be classes as clones. Not a single one deviated from the theme of death as the true topic of the poem. And perhaps that was Frost's intention when he wrote it -- I don't know. Regardless, I found myself resenting the teacher's intrusion into these students' imaginations. I've read the poem numerous times over the years, and I never think of death. Is not one mark of good poetry its ability to conjure up in the reader's mind a picture based on the READER'S experience and imagination? To thwart that is to control the viewpoint of those most capable of being creative thinkers and innovative leaders. Why?

    I love this post, Shon. It reminds me of my own youth, my imaginative poems and stories -- childish as many of them were -- and the sheer joy of committing the pictures in my head to words on paper. Thank you for that reminder. :-)

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    1. Aww, you are most welcome, Linda! I adore hearing your thoughts when you comment. This moment with the children actually made me remember my own childhood experiences with writing and how fearless, fun, and creative I was because all I cared about was the story I wanted to tell.

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  4. Working with kids is so fun. My first real job after high school was teaching preschool. I used do art and creative writing classes with them. In recent years I have taught a writing improv class for high school kids... I had a terrific time all around. It is amazing the abundance of great ideas that pour out of all age groups.

    Great post!

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    1. Thank you, Jason! And you're right; working with kids IS so fun. I think Linda above hits on why it's so much fun for me--their ability to imagine and to do so without fear of ridicule makes me want to do that, too, in my own writing.

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  5. Who has children in this conversation? I don't, and yet have always had a strong teaching focus too.

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    1. I haven't had children, very young ones specifically, and in regards to that strong teaching focus, I've been told I was born with it.

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  6. That's one of the things I love most about storytelling, Shonell: recalling the way I used my imagination to create play scenarios as a child, back when I knew instinctively that in a story anything can happen.

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    1. Me, too, Cara. It can help to take a lot of that anxiety from writing out of the equation, too.

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  7. Yes, it's hard to think like a kid, since it was so long ago!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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