Heads-up, all you writers out there … forget making up stories for a moment … let’s make up words!
Not silly made-up words like Dr. Seuss used to throw into his rhymes to make the meter work and the story more fun … let’s make up some real words.
In order to make something, you need to know what it’s made of. If you want to make a snowman, you need snow. If you want to make a cake, you need flour and eggs. If you want to make a house you need lumber and nails … an over simplification for sure, but you get the point …
So what are words made of? Roots!
Our English words generally have Greek or Latin roots. And if you know what the roots mean, you can figure out the definition of a word.
Take the word amusement.
It has 3 roots: A•MUSE•MENT
The first root A means no or not. Like an atheist is someone with no God or no religion. An anonymous person has no name.
The second root MUSE means thinking. A muse is someone who ponders or thinks or considers, like someone in the arts or a philosopher or a scientist.
The third root is MENT which means a state of being. A government is a state of governing. Fulfillment is a state of being satisfied or fulfilled.
So now we know the definition of the word amusement:
It is a state of not thinking.
In other words, when we’re amusing ourselves, we can switch off the ole’ brain … it won’t be needed!
An “Amusement Park” is a place where somebody will serve you up all the entertainment you want. You simply have to passively partake.
Television, movies, the internet … all places you can go and get served up entertainment with little or no effort on your part. Passive amusement.
Granted, you can get moved emotionally … who doesn’t enjoy a good movie? And of course we all need some downtime. Keep life in balance.
But too much of a good thing is too much. The biggest problem with effortless, passive entertainment is that it’s not very satisfying. After a while it gets boring … we need something more … so the roller coaster gets faster, the special effects get more sensational, the games get more realistic … we get accustomed to the newer, bigger, better … then we get bored with that … then we need the next level of newer, bigger, better …
We may or may not be actually learning anything. Mostly it’s just empty stimulation. There’s input coming in, but it requires little or no investment from us. Something for nothing generally means little to no value in what was gained.
So I’m making up a new word … MUSE•MENT.
Musement means a state of thinking. It is proactive, not passive. It requires intentional effort on the part of the person being "mused". It is much more satisfying and fulfilling than mere amusement. It’s stimulating, too, but in this case, in order to get the input, the participant needs to be actively engaged.
And generally, we get more value and satisfaction from activities and relationships where we actively invest time and energy.
Working on hobbies and crafts, creating art, interacting face-to-face with real people instead of social media or texting or gaming, are all forms of musement.
Books and reading could probably go both ways, but even books meant entirely for amusement will turn into musement, because reading is active. You have to hold the book, read the words, comprehend their meaning … not like a video or movie where you just sit and watch and while the information is delivered directly to you. If you want what a book has to offer, you have to open it up and go get it.
In the real world, amusement abounds around every corner and makes grand promises for little or no effort. That makes for some tough competition for a lowly book. Hence, the problem for parents trying to instill reading habits in their children. Who’s likely to pick up a book when some super hero movie is on? Or when all your friends are on social media? Or all those music/animal/cat and dog/nature/science/cartoon videos?
And, like I said earlier, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those. Some are actually educational. But balance is important. Human brains aren’t built for constant stimulation. There needs to be some quiet and reflective time, too. Time to think and consider life and how to approach it. Time to teach those brains how to think and function well, and sort through all the noise.
And the world certainly is noisy! With all of our gadgets and gizmos blaring out all their sounds and visuals 24/7, all shouting Look at me, look at me!, it takes a lot of effort for adults to pull away, much less their children. But we must … and books are invaluable for teaching that to kids.
As book makers, we have a terrific opportunity to help parents with this tough task. We need to make the books we produce worth the time and effort needed for parents to get the job done. If a book maker can do that, then the parents’ job will be easier. And when parents get the job done, they open up the world for their children, as well as prepare those children to go out into the world and thrive.
I talked once about those ugly babies: books that aren’t well produced and don’t look professional. That was more about the aesthetics and technical skills of producing a physical book. And that is very important to simply make people choose a book.
Once that book is opened, it’s just as important that the story and message inside are worth the investment. The better the content, the more rewarding and worthwhile the effort will be, and that’s how a lifelong, life-changing reading habit is formed!
We could talk for weeks and weeks about story structure and character arcs, conflict and resolution, what goes into great illustrations. I’m still learning a lot about the writing part myself, and there are other articles on this site about illustration and book layout and production in the Freebies section.
Of course we always want to make our books as terrific and as interesting as we can make them. But these are, after all, children’s books, which are simpler and less involved that adult books, especially children’s books that are designed for very young children. Some of those books don’t even have text, just simple colorful pictures.
Do books like that matter so much? And if so, what real difference do they make?
Let’s take a look at that … see you next week.