A mother in a Facebook group recently asked for tips to help her perfectionist nine-year-old boy with his creative writing – to overcome his fears and get his ideas down on paper. This can be an issue for lots of children, but especially perfectionists (I have one of those) so I thought I’d share some ideas that I’ve used myself – some words of encouragement and some techniques that your child (or you!) might benefit from.
First, remember: you are not alone
Sitting down to start a new story for the first time is tough for even the most seasoned professional writer. There’s something about looking at a blank page that blocks the flow of ideas. This blockage can lead to anxiety and fear or a feeling of failure. Knowing that even professional writers (most of them!) experience this can be a comforting thought.
Ideas come when you are relaxed
All creatives are different, but many find that there is a particular time of day or location in which the ideas seem to flow more naturally. For some it’s the bath or shower, for others it may be while walking the dog or riding on public transport or while washing the dishes. For me, my best ideas come when I’m in bed at night. I seem to be able to dive into worlds of my own creation much more easily when lying in bed in the dark. So what to do about this?
Well, first you need to find the best time for thinking over ideas. Try thinking about your story in different situations and at different times of day.
Then, you need to find a way to harness those ideas without forgetting them! I keep a notebook and pencil beside my bed and I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat bolt upright, switched on the lamp and scribbled something down. If you think better in the shower or bath, then get a waterproof notepad and pen (yes, these exist!) If great ideas come to you when walking then take a phone or ipad and dictate them into your device. Do what works for you.
Later, use those ideas to get you started. And just write. Don’t criticise, don’t edit, just write.
Brainstorming is all about spending a fixed amount of time writing down all ideas that come to mind, without judgement. They may be words that come to mind, ideas for new stories, or ideas for a particularly story you are working on. And brainstorming doesn’t even need to be about words; if you think in pictures, just draw pictures! You might brainstorm a few ideas for a story, then brainstorm a few words about that story, about the plot, the main character, the location, and so on until it starts to come together. Then let those ideas sit for a while and try mulling on them using your favourite technique from above – while in the bath, or on a walk.
Ask yourself some questions
If you are trying to come up with a new story, ask yourself this series of questions. You will find that these questions are the essence of most stories.
- Who is my main character?
- What do they want?
- What’s stopping them from getting what they want? Who is in their way?
- How do they overcome this?
- How do they grow from this experience?
First drafts are for your eyes only
There is a saying that goes something like “first drafts are about throwing down sand, editing is when you build the sand castles”. Every writer knows that first drafts are just a starting point. Getting words down is essential. Then you have something to work with. You don’t even need to start at the beginning. Just get words down, get ideas flowing. Edit later.
It might be useful to know that all books go through an editing process, and some take years to hone (not perfect – there is no such thing as perfection). To get an idea of how much work can go into one picture book, it might be useful to read this transcript by Mem Fox, which describes her process of writing Where is the Green Sheep. It’s actually a very interesting article because it highlight’s Mem’s insecurities and shame at her own early drafts, even as an accomplished author.
Find other ways to get the words down
Handwriting and typing can be a barrier to creative writing, especially in boys, whose fine motor skills generally develop later than girls. Perhaps a touch-typing app or program might help to improve typing skills. Or you might consider voice-to-text programs – both Apple and Microsoft provide built-in dictation capabilities and there are many apps and programs available to do the same, then you can dictate the words and have them magically appear on the screen. Or, if you have a very good friend who can touch type, ask them to do the typing for you.
I hope this helps your perfectionist to get started. And remember, there is no such thing as perfect.