If you are a creative with a storyteller’s heart, you are blessed indeed.
So, just what is that exactly?
It’s that elusive, intuitive quality that comes through the art you create. It enables you to be able to communicate with your reader in ways that makes them want to hear what you have to say. All creatives have it. It’s what connects a writer and a reader, an actor and an audience, an artist with a viewer, a musician with a listener.
You’ve known people like this in your life … a favorite teacher that brought to life some dry, boring subject. A favorite friend or relative who “got” you. A writer who pulled you into a narrative. An actor who became the character.
And you remember them all, because of the emotional reactions they evoked: your interest was peeked; you felt a connection; you were there, experiencing the events; you believe you actually met and knew that character. It’s why the readers, audiences, viewers and listeners can tell you the names of their favorite writers, actors, artists and musicians. Those are the ones with whom they felt the connection.
This is what we’re after when we’re writing and drawing our children’s books. We want to achieve that connection.
The relationship between a children’s book maker and the reader is unique. Unlike most other book genres, we are not peers of our readers.
Being the adult speaking to children can be a problem. We shouldn’t be preaching or scolding or talking down to them. We also shouldn’t be trying represent ourselves to them as being something that we’re not. Readers can see right through all our ploys and phoniness. Don’t even think about trying any nonsense like that.
What we want to do is to be ourselves, but we need to understand our role.
Children are powerless creatures. Someone else is always scheduling their time, deciding when they will eat, what activities they will participate in. When you’re powerless, you depend on the adults taking care of you to be safe and dependable. So when writing for them, do talk to them with your adult voice. You are just another dependable, safe, trustworthy authority figure.
Childhood is also a time of figuring out a big, scary world full of unknowns. They are new on the scene and have no clue how to figure it all out. When the adults and authorities in their life are safe and dependable, they are free to get busy exploring and learning about their world.
As children’s book makers, we have the awesome opportunity to join them in that journey.
Rather than being just another authority leading the way … let’s be traveling companions with them. Instead of just telling them, we can walk with them and show them. We understand their perspective, because we’ve walked that path ourselves … we were children once, too!
This is how you can really connect with young readers.
But it only works if you can reach back into your own past and pull up all those emotions and experiences that you lived through. The best storytellers always pull from real life experiences … that’s how you write from a storyteller’s heart.
Unfortunately, many of us grown ups haven’t taken good care of our hearts. Many of us barely know what’s going on inside those hearts.
We had to grow up.
We got all serious and responsible. We make sure our work gets done and the bills get paid. We pay our taxes and mow the lawn and take good care of our families. Sometimes life turns tragic, someone gets sick or some terrible tragedy strikes, and we scramble to get life back in order again. When it’s back in order, we settle back down into our regular routines, plodding along, day after day, being sensible, responsible grown ups.
We forgot how to play.
We lost the wonder and curiosity about life and our world.
And when we lost all that, the joy went, too.
The biggest obstacle that prevents you from writing from your heart … is your own heart.
It turns into an obstacle when:
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.
b. When all that seriousness and sensibility leaks into your storytelling and you’re telling that reader what they “need’ and “should” know.
c. When you’re not clear on the difference between “childish” and “childlike”.
d. When you can’t seem to allow yourself to get caught up in the joy of your own work.
e. When you’re forcing yourself to write about and draw subjects you’re not totally crazy over, but it’s what is needed.
f. When you’re no longer interested or curious about life and the world around you.
g. When there are no longer any times to play, ponder and laugh out loud … because you are such a serious, sensible, responsible adult.
But that banged up heart of yours can just as easily be your biggest asset.
Come back next week and we'll see how to turn it around ...