Every so often, I have the opportunity to teach a writing class. Invariably, someone asks where I get my inspiration from. The younger the group, the more interested they are in this process.
For a kindergartner, the possibilities are endless. Younger kids, just out of the stage of the magical thinking of their toddler years, still have a sprinkling of that fairy dust left. In their world, it’s almost possible for me to pick up a great idea at Wal-Mart, sitting right next to the toothpaste.
As the kids mature, they wrestle with idea generation in a different way. Girls especially, seem to want inspiration packaged and neatly wrapped. They sometimes struggle with the start of their stories, unable to move forward until they rip that first idea from their mind, dirt and roots and all, and slap it on the paper.
It doesn’t always happen that way, I tell them. Ideas don’t come because you pine away for them. It takes a little prodding, poking, and sometimes just setting it aside for a while and coming back to it.
As long as you’re not procrastinating, this can work wonders.
But, they ask, what do I do when an idea is stalled, stuck by the side of the road, waiting for a tow truck to show up?
Once, I needed to write an article and all four of my creative tires were flat, puddled heaps on a seemingly dead car. I had a germ of a thought, but every beginning I came up with sucked. And there were quite a few of them.
So that’s what I did, I told the class. I typed “this beginning stinks” at the top of my page and I went on to write the rest of the article.
They thought that was pretty funny. I explained that I changed the beginning before I submitted it, but the point was valid:
When the beginning won’t come, write the rest.
The older boys I’ve taught have different issues. Aside from being almost consumed with writing about blowing things up or car chases, they don’t always dive below the surface the way the girls do.
Sometimes their writing skates across the ice. Adults see the cracks and bubbles and cold water lurking below, and good writing will plug its nose and plumb those depths, stick our metaphorical head in the water for a while. That’s where the story is.
For the younger kids, I just want them to have fun, to enjoy the silliness, the possibilities, the sheer thrill of creating. Finished with a few paragraphs, they run outside to their mothers, papers waving excitedly in their hands. Mom smiles before she even sees what’s been written, and the kids get instant validation for having created a little something.
And the older kids? I tell them it’s OK to struggle, to think what they’ve written is no good, downright stupid and not worthy of being printed. Keep going. Don’t give up.
That’s often when inspiration strikes and something great happens.