Finding Your Inner Child (and letting it go)
When I was a child I started a lot of stories. I don’t think I ever finished one. By the time I was an adult I had built up a database of about 50 first lines of short stories, most of which were never completed.
As a novelist, however, I’ve found that publishers are usually keen for you to finish the story. So now the creative phase is relatively short, a couple of months of wild, ideas-based writing, followed by several months of editing. As novelists we have to learn the art of self discipline, but in doing so, are we stifling the child in ourselves, or in other words, our creativity?
Last month I was fortunate to be offered a place on the Scottish Book Trust’s CBBC lab, as a novelist interested in writing for children’s TV. I found the experience of coming up with ideas for TV shows completely different from novel writing. Instead of slogging away at one precious idea, we had one week to come up with ten (yes, ten!) original ideas for TV shows. But we only had two lines to write for each. It sounds daunting, but in practice it took away much of the fear that usually goes with coming up with ideas. And I had my own kids to help me, who, not having my fear of actually having to finish a story, had no problem with beginning them, even if most of them involved bottoms.
With 10 ideas for roughly 10 participants, that meant 100 ideas being shared in one session. What was surprising was how a situation which could have been competitive (ten writers, used to writing in isolation, potentially competing for the best idea) was actually intensely collaborative. Learning to lose ownership of your work is one of the first lessons we learn as published authors. But too often authors still cling on to their babies. It’s a bit like watching your child leave home, we need to learn to set our art free, to appreciate that it’s not about us, but about the value of the work itself.
There’s something incredibly refreshing for a writer about the sense that ideas are disposable. If one doesn’t work, it’ll probably spark off another, better idea. From wayward fairies to ghosts, kids’ radio stations and rapping dogs, by pooling our creative resources, we could refine our ideas into something much greater than the sum of its parts, with potential for both screen and print.
What the CBBC lab showed was that whether or not we end up getting work commissioned for TV, writers, especially those of us who work in isolation, should break out of our comfort zone more often. Better collaboration really can mean more creativity, and taking away the pressure to finish can help us remember why started in the first place.