Updated: Sep 19
In our family, we try our best to allow space for creativity, sometimes even when it doesn’t “make sense.” When our daughter was younger, she was in a kids’ class where they sang a song about what they wanted to be when they grew up. When it was our daughter’s turn, she called out, “Kangaroo!”
The teacher gently corrected her, saying “People can’t be kangaroos. Let’s pick something else. How about a princess, or a mommy?”
Our daughter’s face fell, and she meekly assented to one of the presented choices.
Now, I can relate to the teacher who said that to her. I’m a very reality-driven, rule-based person myself. I’m pretty sure the teacher was trying to help, and to avoid a chain reaction of children shouting out totally ridiculous things they wanted to be. But on the flip side, our daughter was only three, younger than many of the other kids in the class. Reality would have set in on her soon enough. Sure, people can’t morph into kangaroos, but our daughter didn’t know that yet. To our daughter, the world was full of possibilities – including becoming a kangaroo. I wish she could have kept her dream just a little longer.
Afterward, my husband and I talked to our daughter. “You can be a kangaroo if you want to,” we said.
Her face lit up. “Really?”
“Sure,” we said. “Did you know there are people whose job it is to wear costumes and pretend to be animals or other characters as they walk around? There are also people who train kangaroos at zoos and other places, and the baby kangaroos sometimes follow the trainers around just like they’re kangaroos, too!”
“Can you make me a kangaroo costume?” she asked.
We said yes, and she skipped off happily to play.
Honestly, I sort of wish I hadn’t even presented realistic applications for how to be kangaroo. I wish I could have just said, “You can be a kangaroo if you want to be!” and left it at that. But I didn’t want to mislead her, and the topic had already been broached.
Why do I bring up this encounter? Because we as adults can so easily discourage our children by dismissing their creative ideas. Sure, our daughter will never change species and become a kangaroo. But she didn’t really need to know that. Yet. Once the topic was brought up, with a little effort we were able to think of some realistic ways she could “be a kangaroo” even in the real world, but she’ll never quite have that blissful vision of truly transforming into a kangaroo again. I’m a little sad about that. It’s like that moment that you realize you’ve outgrown the ability to truly believe in your pretend games, and now it’s just mildly entertaining. The magic is gone.
I mean, it had to happen eventually, but I would have liked to let her revel in her imagination for a little bit longer.
So how does this apply to writing?
Imagination and creative thought – even in wild fantasies like becoming a kangaroo – tie back in to the limitations (or lack thereof) our children will learn to place on themselves when writing. If we dismiss unrealistic ideas off-hand, we run the risk of unintentionally training our children to shut down their own imaginations.
When it comes to writing, there is little (usually no) harm at all in encouraging creative thought, even if it doesn’t totally make sense or you know it isn’t realistic. Reality, expectations, etc., will close in on them automatically as they experience the world, but that internal creative spark, if protected and nourished, could be what leads them to be an innovator and inventor in whatever field they later choose. And as a writer, it can lead them to produce brilliant, entertaining, glimmering work with that spark of passion and originality.
Writing technique and rules must be learned, but the idea is always what drives the writing. Without the idea, nothing will ever make it onto the page. It is far easier to train someone to apply structure to their ideas, than to re-train someone to think creatively when they’re out of practice doing so. It’s possible! But it’s much easier in the other direction.
For our part, we are trying to encourage the free-spirited creative thought now, so that when rules are applied to her writing later, hopefully there will still be a creative pulse at the heart of it.