Regain the wonder

A surprising key to unblocking and unlocking inspiration was revealed to one writer in the pages of children's books
By Dawn Goldsmith | Published: April 11, 2012


For several years I worked five days a week as a page in a library. A page (now there’s an ideal library title) is the employee who is lowest in the pecking order and spends her days shelving books. It is the perfect job for observing people. Kids are the most entertaining.

Most of them are naturally fearless and curious, and ready to try anything. I’ve plucked 2-year-olds from the upper shelves and watched kids of all ages sprawl on the carpet, unaware of the people tripping over them as they focused on a book or picture or speck of dust. Children delve without hesitation into fantasy, and think nothing extraordinary about dogs talking and cats wearing hats. They soak up new experiences like sponges and are constantly hungry to learn and do and try.

Nothing is beyond their realm of possibility. The books written for children draw upon that “What if?” and “It could happen” and “Why not?” way of thinking. My sons immersed themselves without qualms in the tale of Dooley and the Snortsnoot by Jack Kent. Nothing better than a people-eating dragon like Snortsnoot, who squares off against Dooley, a fearful giant child. As the pages turn, we see Dooley lose his fears and find his courage to protect the village. And my children never questioned creating a sandwich so large that it required a front-end loader to spread the jam, as in The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway.

When did we outgrow the ability to find wonder? Whether we view it realistically or with fantasy, the world is filled with the most unbelievable things, yet, unlike children, we have such a way of restricting ourselves. When did we learn to resist change rather than embrace it? When did we develop a self-censor? “Most of us have two lives,” Steven Pressfield wrote in The War of Art. “The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

As a writer, I retain my childhood aversion to doing what I should (minding my bedtime, sitting still, doing chores). Thus, one of the hardest parts of my writing work is to write—the physical act of putting butt in the seat, hands on the keyboard, and mind to the task. Instead, I will surf the Internet, answer emails, do the laundry … but I resist doing what will give me the most pleasure and, yes, the most pain. I have a couple of successful ways to overcome that resistance—at least toward writing.

Timed writings: giving myself permission to write whatever I want for 20 minutes, nonstop. I put my fingers on the keys, close my eyes, and start typing whatever comes into my head. I don’t correct, don’t edit, don’t censor.

It is a way to give myself the freedom to just write, and ultimately it is freeing. The best part is what I find hiding in the gibberish. Many times I have inadvertently uncovered a nugget for an article or essay. I’m always amazed where free thought takes me. Once when freewriting about heirloom plants, which are often raised to increase the gene pool for future generations, I made the jump from lilac bushes growing around Great Grandma’s house to Grandma, who was one of many prize “heirlooms” contributing to a strong, well-rooted family tree. The resulting essay sold to The Christian Science Monitor.

When all else fails and resistance has me by the throat, I turn to the children’s department at the library and read. I usually begin with Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Typeby Doreen Cronin. A Dr. Seuss book frees my fearful spirit, as does a Shel Silverstein title.

Not long ago, while assisting the librarian with story time, she read aloud to the children my new favorite: Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp by Carol Diggory Shields. Anyone who can rhyme those multisyllabic dinosaur names and describe those mighty lizard beasts dancing has my respect and gratitude. Because once I’ve forgotten about day-to-day responsibilities and reality and immersed myself in the world of cows that type and dinosaurs that dance, there’s nothing stopping my creativity.

Newton said an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by another force. But I bet he didn’t think of kid’s literature as a “force” to start the creativity ball rolling. Next time you’re resisting doing what you know you really need to do, check out a kid’s book. It’s liberating.

Veteran freelancer Dawn Goldsmith’s writing have been published in numerous national markets, including The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. Blogs:wordsogold.blogspot.com and subversivestitch.blogspot.com.