This one goes out to all my parental homies wrangling ankle-biters and grouchy tweens and hyperactive screen-addicted little womb-fruits over the summer holidays (and, like every day).
Chances are HIGH that you’re not getting a whole lot of writing time at the moment. Chances are you’re scarfing biscuits in the bathroom just to get two minutes of peace. Chances are you haven’t read a whole book in about six years.
BUT. HOWEVER. NONETHELESS. Your writing brain is still there, lying dormant, somewhere behind all the important nose-wiping, arse-wiping, bedtime-tucking-in, sibling-rivalry-refereeing, hangry-toddler-placating, existential-questions-from-your-weird-seven-year-old, constant-never-ending-snack-preparing stuff. And it actually takes very little to activate it again – in fact, your kids can be the very catalyst that keeps that spark of creativity alive and burning.
Even a simple day out to the park/beach/farm/soft play (shudder) can be an exercise in story creation, especially with the help of the harshest critics and the most uninhibited creative minds the world has ever known: children. Not only that, but it can help re-frame even the most mundane task into something fun and entertaining. Win/win.
Here’s how it works:
When your kids ask you, “What are we doing today?” you turn whatever your plans are into something far more interesting. You turn it into a story…
Eg: “we’re going to the shop to get some eggs so we can have omelettes for dinner” becomes “we’re going into the dragon’s lair to steal some magical eggs to save our goblin friend who’s under a sleeping spell”…
Ooh. Suddenly, we’re on a mission. Depending on your kids’ ages/agreeability/mood, you can expand this out as much as you like, with plenty of input from them of course.
Maybe you need a whole detailed backstory and character breakdowns before you begin. Who are you and why have you been chosen for this dangerous task? What skills do you have that will help you succeed? What flaws/other difficulties might hinder you? Do you have a plan?
Once you’ve done some prep, venture out into your adventure and use whatever you can to add depth and detail to your story. Gotta cross a busy road? Nah mate, it’s a raging river full of hungry crocodiles. Time for more problem solving. How are you going to get safely across? Do you jump on the crocodiles’ heads to make stepping stones or do you use your magical powers to freeze them within an eerie light (ahem, wait for the green man please)?
Unsuspecting passers-by can be written into your story as ogres and fairies and random NPCs.
The slightest breeze can turn into a hurricane that sends you whirling down the street, hanging onto lamp posts.
A passing flock of birds can become an attacking airborne army of bats.
Shop aisles can be a labyrinth.
Your characters’ strengths, weaknesses and skills can all be utilised to help your cause and formulate new plans to succeed in your mission, no matter what (increasingly ridiculous obstacles) you come up against…
And when you get home, prize in hand, you will, of course, have to play the part of the magically-sleeping goblin who simply cannot be awoken (natch).
These storytelling games can last all day. Kids are much better at suspending disbelief than we are, and naturally jump into the narrative without doubts, self-consciousness, or a need to rationalise things. They just go with it. And when you just go with it, you’ll find the story begins to go off in amazing, unexpected ways. Which is really how the magic happens.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re not actually writing a story about dragons and goblins. The nature of storytelling is the same. Cause and effect is the same whether you’re stealing magical eggs or having a character quit their job. Improvising dialogue with an excitable four-year-old is arguably more of a challenge than writing an exchange between your WIP characters. So even if you don’t have time to sit down and write, THIS IS EXCELLENT PRACTICE.
A CAVEAT: FYI, this exercise is absolutely not exclusive to people with kiddos. I have been known to do exactly the same thing with mates on the way home from a drunken evening. In fact, I even did it on my honeymoon. My husband and I went on a looooong old walk, and after about three hours we realised we hadn’t seen another human being in all that time. We promptly decided we must have inadvertently missed some sort of apocalypse and the next figure we saw on the path was – obviously – a zombie, hungry for our brains. Reader, we ran, hand in hand, laughing like idiots, making up The Walking Dead-themed stories and explanations for how the world had come to an end.
It’s that simple. And that silly.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not able to sit and write every day. All it takes is a bit of childish imagination to keep your writing brain fizzing.
So go forth and create stories with your kids, with your friends, on your own, whatever. Every day out is another opportunity for a new bit of fictional fun…