Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week’s post is from another friend…children’s author and illustrator, Russ Cox, whose whimsical artwork inspires me every day…
Generating ideas: Thinking like a child
By Russ Cox
“If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up! Not me!” ― J.M. Barrie
When Donna contacted me about writing an article on thinking like a child, I was excited to tackle this subject matter. Having reached the mid-century mark, it has been a long time since I was an actual kid in the physical sense. But if you ask my wife she will tell you I never grew up. She reminds me of this almost every day.
So what is it to be an adult and still think like a child? I believe to work in the children’s market, especially books, not only do you have to think like a child, but in many ways you need to act like one. No, not in the “I did not get my way so I would throw a tantrum or hold my breath until I pass out” way, although I have tried that with my wife and she will just step over me. To be child-like, one must still enjoy doing kid things.
Here are some things that I try to do to keep that inner kid active:
Don’t be perfect or afraid to fail –
A child does not worry about being perfect. Not every circle or square is exactly right. To exaggerate things is to see them in a new perspective. A different viewpoint can lead you down an undiscovered road, full of new ideas. Try to see things that are not there or do not make sense in the adult world. Look at drawings done by children. They show an eclectic mix of characters and scenarios that would make even Freud scratch his head, in a good way. Where would Picasso be if he created his paintings in a more traditional style?
The only time adults really let loose and pretend seems to be on Halloween or at a costume party. Why not dig out a mask or tennis racket and pretend you are a monster playing the guitar in a rock band. I would make a banjo reference but not many of us would imagine playing the banjo with a mask on. Reenact the “worm” scene from Animal House. The alcohol is optional.
Be silly, let loose –
Okay with this one, it is confession time. I have different voices for our four cats. Yes, I have become that crazy cat person. My wife is as well by proxy. Doing silly voices for the cats has lead to story and illustration ideas. Just stepping outside of adulthood for a brief moment and letting loose, feels good and gives you a good belly laugh. My daughter and I came up with this silly dance that we do whenever we are in bad moods. You cannot help but laugh at us. It is pure silliness. I can show you sometime if we ever run into each other.
Try something new –
I think as adults we get so stuck in our ways and routines it is hard to break out of that rut. Kids are always up to doing something they haven’t done before. It is the freshness of a new discovery that keeps them exploring new adventures. So do something different. Go into a music store, pick up an instrument that you have no idea how to play, and attempt to play it. Strum, blow, bang, crash, etc.! Yes, you could clear the store and create a ruckus but you could be an undiscovered Mozart or Jimi Hendrix.
As adults, especially creative ones, we must keep the want to “play” alive and healthy. We need to loose the self-control restraint that ones with age. I still enjoy going to toy stores and playing with the toys, watching cartoons, running amok at amusement parks and playgrounds, flying kites, and chasing my wife around with a water pistol. And yes, I do squirt her!
Practice? How does one practice being a kid? If you apply or try a few the ideas above, your inner kid will come flooding back. Maybe to the chagrin of your partner or family but the payoff in the end will be worth it.
As we become adults, we tend to loose that creative free spirit. With jobs, families, and various responsibilities, a seriousness enters our lives, pushing out the inner child. Keeping that child alive is the key to not only success, but to lots of laughs and a happy, creative life.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso
Russ Cox was raised by a pack of crazed hillbillies in the back woods of Tennessee. Without much in the way of modern conveniences, like a television set or running water, he spent his time drawing and whittling away the hours. After dismantling his grandfather’s lawn mower engine, and without a clue on how to get it back together, he soon realized that he did not have an automotive bone in his body so he kept drawing. After graduating from art school, with a portfolio in his hand, he ventured into the world of design and illustration. He opened his own studio, Smiling Otis Studio, where he presently specializes in illustration for children. When not drawing, running amok in the snow, or training their four cats to sing Bohemian Rhapsody, Russ enjoys some quiet time, working on his picture book stories. He also enjoys playing the banjo but his wife would prefer him to play the triangle or build a sound proof room.