A storyteller’s heart.
Most creatives are naturally gifted with it and just seem to know how to use it straightaway.
Some have to learn how to use it, but it’s not a particularly hard thing to learn.
Some of us have it and don’t even know it, because we’ve let life bang us up so badly that we’ve lost touch with our own hearts. Somehow, in the process of growing up into mature, responsible adults, we forgot how to enjoy life. We got so focused on we do, that we forgot how to be.
That’s not good for anybody, but it’s especially tragic for creatives. It will suck the energy and life right out of whatever kind of art they make … including picture books!
But those banged up hearts can go back and re-learn what they forgot. They can re-learn the wonder and curiosity and the sheer joy of being alive.
That doesn’t mean that you’ll stop being a sensible and mature adult. Chores will still get done. Bills and lawns and homework will be taken care of.
It simply means that everything will be back into proper perspective.
You can’t play all the time. You can’t work all the time. But you can keep those two in balance.
Truly responsible adults know this. And when it’s all back in balance, their banged up heart heals, and life and work get better than ever.
For a children’s book writer and drawer, that means terrific books and those important connections formed with readers.
Because now all that writing and drawing is coming straight out of your storytelling heart.
That obstacle that was your heart is now your biggest asset. You can get there by reversing those points from last week:
a. You’ve allowed yourself to get all grown up, serious and sensible, past the point of what’s necessary for living a responsible adult life.
Lighten up a little. It’s a good thing to be a responsible adult, but the world won’t end if the vacuuming gets delayed a day or two, or if we just order takeout tonight. Get on a good regular schedule where there’s a good balance between the times for doing responsible things and times for rest breaks and just relishing life. Everything won’t be perfectly completed and exactly on schedule every minute of every day, but it is possible to have an acceptable, livable level of order and peace with an steady, ongoing routine from day to day.
b. When all that seriousness and sensibility leaks into your storytelling and you’re telling that reader what they “need" and “should” know.
This comes from the first point of being too serious and sensible. You’re probably already up in your own head telling yourself all those “ought to’s” and “should haves”, so it’s an easy carry over to get preachy in your writing. Preachy doesn’t go over too well in children’s literature. There are things they need to hear and learn, but instead of telling them, find creative ways in your story writing to show them. When they “discover” it on their own while reading, it will stick with them.
c. When you’re not clear on the difference between “childish” and “childlike”.
“Childish” adults are the direct opposite of the first point … instead of being overly serious, they aren’t serious and responsible enough. If you throw responsibility totally out the window, it will be just as detrimental to your life and work as being the opposite way. “Childlike”, on the other hand, is that awesome ability you had during childhood that you want to keep and cultivate, where your curiosity and wonder about life and the world has you always watching, observing and being awestruck by the beauty around you.
d. When you can’t seem to allow yourself to get caught up in the joy of your own work.
Anything you do day in and day out, whether working at a regular job or doing your own thing, can get mundane. Finding joy in anything you do, including work, is just a habit … satisfaction in a completed task, or the gleam and orderliness of a freshly straightened desk or a cleaned house, or learning a new skill in your work. On purpose, enjoy what you do every day, and you will cultivate joy in your life. And that will spill over into your writing and drawing.
e. When you’re forcing yourself to write about and draw subjects you’re not totally crazy over, but it’s what is needed.
Sometimes for a boss or a client, you have to do work that’s not exactly what you love, and that’s okay. Never shirk the next needs-to-be-done chore. But when you are putting together your own books and stories and projects, don’t just pick a subject because you think that’s what readers will want or a subject that might merely sell books. Pick subjects that interest and excite you. When you write and draw about those things, your interest and passion will shine through without even trying. Readers will pick up on that excitement and get interested, too. And don’t just tell them about it, show them!
f. When you’re no longer interested or curious about life and the world around you.
Besides just getting routine and boring, life can be hard and painful. It can take all you can muster some days just to get out of bed and face another day on the planet. First of all, allow yourself the grace to just be real. This isn’t a list from Sally Sunshine on how to be a super human. Life will always be a series of ups and downs. No matter whether you’re having a great day or terrible day, don’t expect it to stay that way. It will get better or worse one day soon … just expect it. The trick is to accept the reality of it and make decisions about how you can ride out the storms. Who do you turn to when you need a helping hand? Where do you go when your heart needs a lift? Never give up and quit. And when you find solutions and ways to cope, that’s just more resources for you to draw from for the characters in your stories. Weave into the story lines your characters’ ups and downs, and how they overcome life’s challenges. Show your readers how it all gets resolved … that’s how kids learn important lessons about real life. Again, show it, don’t preach it!
g. When there are no longer any times to play, ponder and laugh out loud … because you are such a serious, sensible, responsible adult.
This is when you have, quite frankly, deluded yourself. An actual mature adult knows that life must be kept in balance and there are times for work and times for play. Either one left out will cause the other to suffer mightily. If you want to do the best work you can possibly do – and, of course you do, because you are so sensible, you know – then make time to rest and play. Make time for friends and family. There is actually something much worse than being lazy and irresponsible ... it's being overly responsible. Take time to rest your body and mind ... it's the responsible thing to do!