In yoga, the beginner mind is something even advanced yogis aspire to obtain. In writing, I wouldn’t want to go back to my skills as a beginner, but finding my way back to the Child’s Mind unlocks a whole new power and perspective in writing that can find its way around any writer’s block. Ever sat and just listened to children playing? At the park, in the grocery store, in your living room? They are incredibly adaptive and of course, creative. Ever argued with a toddler? There is nothing more embarrassing, but also instructive. There is never an answer that cannot be overcome.
When kids play they instantly adapt to new events as they collaboratively tell a story.
“MY guy can fly AND shoot lasers!”
“Well my guy is laser-proof and shoots jelly that can jam up your lasers anyway!”
“Okay, well but my guy will just jump and fly out of the way and shoot the ground under you and you will drop in a hole and his jelly gun can’t reach up here now!
“Well my jelly gun is also a bubble gun and it makes me float up out of the hole…”
It never ends. Until interrupted, that is.
This practice is exactly what a novelist must do as they consider complications leading to the climax and ultimately the resolution of the story. Problem solve, throw in a wrench, problem solve, throw in a curveball… and somehow the protagonist comes out of it all. So the next time the children in your life want to play, give it a try! It will sharpen your writing skills as well as any prompt I’ve tried.
People who get into animation tend to be kids. We don’t have to grow up. But also, animators are great observers, and there’s this childlike wonder and interest in the world, the observation of little things that happen in life.John Lasseter
This quote from John Lasseter really applies to all storytellers; whether they be the organic, real life storytellers in our lives, or actors and illustrators, and of course, writers of all kinds. Keeping a notebook of oddities said or done or seen in the world around us is a great practice, not just for the fact that it makes sure we have this incredible storehouse of vibrant detail for our work, but primarily because it keeps this Child’s Mind alive and active in our lives. In any art, learning to see is what makes all the difference.
Hayao Miyazaki, the renowned illustrator and animator expounds on this process in his book, Starting Point, 1979-1996:
When people speak of a beautiful sunset, do they hurriedly riffle through a book of photographs of sunsets or go in search of a sunset? No, you speak about the sunset by drawing on the many sunsets stored inside you—feelings deeply etched in the folds of your consciousness of the sunset you saw while carried on your mother’s back so long ago that the memory is nearly a dream; or the sunset-washed landscape you saw when, for the first time in your life, you were enchanted by the scene around you; or the sunsets you witnessed that were wrapped in loneliness, anguish, or warmth.Hayao Miyazaki
So record that sunset. Thoughts, emotions, colors, everything. Even if you don’t actively sort back through those notebooks, the act and practice of writing it down teaches your mind what is worth remembering. When you write a scene someday that requires that same depth of emotion and connection, it will be there waiting in your subconscious and ready to spill out onto the page.
The final lesson we can learn from kids? Don’t filter. Particularly in the heat of the creative process, just let it all tumble out. There is no such thing as too silly, far-fetched, or random. As an anime aficionado, that is part of what makes some stories so endearing! Let all the ideas have their say. There is always time to edit later. When you are gathering material or working your way through a timeline, write first and think later. You will be well on your way to developing the coveted Child’s Mind.