Writing Lessons from a Five Year Old
I love rules, and better yet, handbooks, so I can refer back to the rules I’ve forgotten. My middle son has chosen a different route. He is kind and loving and fantastic, and he’s also a rule-breaker, a nonconformist, and a contrarian. While I find him funny and fascinating, we often don’t see eye-to-eye. But there are few other people I’d rather be with (his brothers are pretty wonderful, too.) We’re so unalike that being with him is an adventure. I never quite know what will happen. This is what I like about writing stories, too—the not knowing everything and being surprised. In life, I like a clear-cut plan, but in writing, I prefer just a hint of one.
I’ve started a new story. Actually I’ve started a few new stories and can’t find the one I want to stick with, and Ialwaysstruggle with plot. One of my critique partners said, “I think you’ve got to do more outlining.” Maybe she’s right. But I hate outlines. Even though I’m the one who writes the plan, I feel like I can’t veer from it. When I’m writing with an outline, I feel boxed in, told what to do, and stifled. With an outline, I feel like the adventure is gone.
It occurred to me that maybe this is how my son feels, too, only about life. Once, in frustration after he’d broken one of our house rules and consequently a window, I asked, “Why did you do that?” He replied, “I just wanted to see what would happen.” This line of thinking is at the heart of many of our misunderstandings, but it’s also what I admire most about him—his willingness to take risks, to not care about the rules or what other people might think, to take the plan and shake it like a snow globe. I’m not so bold, either in life or with my writing, but sometimes, I wish I could be in both.