Every so often, I’ll find myself in a bit of a creative lull (like the one I’m in right now) and think back to when I was younger and the ideas flowed so much more freely, when writer’s block was essentially nonexistent and I actually wrote a substantial amount of material every single day. I wonder to myself where all of that went and why I can’t even manage to put out one 500-word blog post a week anymore, never mind the fact that I literally wrote two entire books in a single year when I was in 5th grade. Granted, both of those books were only about 100 double sided, handwritten pages long and the style needed some major work, but maybe the reason some writers give up or stop putting out work is because they’ve lost the ability to write like a kid.
When you’re writing as a kid, nothing else matters other than the story you’re putting down on the page. Literary tropes, archetypes, and rules are all still bland words in a textbook that you haven’t bothered to read. Your characters all talk the same way, and your plot lines are probably tangled and convoluted, with holes everywhere, but none of that even registers on your radar because the story is unfolding all on its own in your head. The clunky, awkward prose that gets carelessly slapped onto paper is hardly for a literary agent or editor’s eyes, but rather for your mind’s, serving as a map for the feature film that’s rolling inside. When you’re writing as a kid, you’re not writing for an agent, a publisher, a literary critic, or anyone else. When you’re writing as a kid, you’re writing solely for the purpose of preserving the story you’ve created and watching it play out in your own head, and maybe that’s why some of us lose the ability and joy of writing as we get older, because we’re constantly editing and critiquing our nascent stories to death before they even have the chance to take their first living breaths.
Maybe that’s because if you’re like me, you wanted to write as well as you possibly could, so you read and devoured article after article on literary technique, plotting, and every other topic under the sun in order to make yourself better, but you ended up starving your creativity in the process. Now, rather than being able to nurture your own stories and your own ideas, you keep questioning whether they’re original enough, whether the plot is tight enough, logical enough, but also interesting enough to keep readers engaged, and soon your ideas disappear altogether because you’re smothering them. All of a sudden, everything you write goes through a battery of questions and filters, and nothing seems to pass, because it’s all designed for agents, publishers, readers, and agents. You’re writing for a nondescript crowd somewhere in space rather than yourself, and you start wondering why you don’t even enjoy writing anymore when the answer is that you’re writing to please some imaginary audience instead of writing about the things and crafting the stories you fell in love with in the first place.
I catch myself in this cycle all the time, and I think this is the first time I’m actually realizing what causes it. I constantly ask myself why I would write something, because “no one would want to read that” or because “everyone’s written about that already” while simultaneously getting stressed out because I haven’t been writing anything at all.
Maybe that filterless, reckless style of writing so many of us have when we’re young is something we need to redeem, a style of writing where we write for our own enjoyment and pleasure, about the things we love, telling the stories our minds are begging us to tell, rather than the stories and volumes we think will sell or we think people will like best. That’s part of the beauty of writing anyway, isn’t it, the fact that someone would read and resonate with your own thoughts?
Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Maybe we need to take that wisdom more seriously and just start writing for ourselves and our love of the craft again, because we should work at our art, but we should never come to a place of dreading it.