Okay my title is probably false advertising. For one thing, my brother and I had pretty much the same upbringing, and he’s not a writer. For another thing, who knows what factors make us who we are? There’s a whole world of literature out there on the nature/nurture debate, and since most of it is really boring, I haven’t read it. Was I born a writer, or beaten in to becoming one? I’ll never know. But I’m pretty sure the following items had a profound effect on my creative process. And while my brother’s not a writer, he IS pretty much awesome. So trying to bring the following in to your kids’ lives probably won’t HURT.
Like most people who were raised by human beings, I have ISSUES with my parents. But there is one thing for which I can’t thank my mother enough: She brought creativity into my life early on. We had what seemed like the contents of an entire craft store in our basement. My mom and both of my grandmothers taught me to crochet, embroider, and sew. I went through several forests worth of paper, and Crayola’s success as a manufacturer of kids’ art supplies is probably mostly my doing. She praised my silly little kid drawings. She made all my halloween costumes. She encouraged me to try new projects. It was almost impossible to grow up with her and not be a creative person.
Creativity feeds creativity. You want creative kids, it helps to provide opportunities to create. You will have a messier life, but it’s worth it.
Many of my early memories are of being read to. My mom helped me learn to read when I was four. Reading and writing were sacred activities–even though my mother herself wasn’t a writer and usually kept herself too busy for reading. (Or maybe she was just always busy reading to ME.) And once my reading habit was securely fixed, my parents squandered the money they should have saved for retirement on feeding my bottomless appetite for new books. I’m sure they did it in self defense, so they wouldn’t have to listen to me complain about having nothing to read. And my dad allowed me full access to his bookshelves. Yeah, I probably read some things that weren’t age appropriate. I was also more articulate than a lot of kids my age, so the tradeoff was probably worth it.
I fell in love with stories first. I loved them so much that I wanted to make my own. Playtime for me was acting out stories. They usually featured horses. I was almost always a princess . . . or a poor girl who became a princess. Reading stories, loving stories, playing stories evolved in to writing stories.
I’m pretty sure you can’t start too early with the stories. In utero is probably best.
I grew up surrounded by boats on the bay, antique houses with big front porches, vibrant fall colors, crisp blue skies, and white, white winters. My house wasn’t very exciting, but my parents owned five acres, which I was allowed to roam freely. We lived across the street from a field full of pines (I’m pretty sure they were planted for lumber purposes). Beyond the trees, old two-tracks wound up a hill and in to the woods. One of them passed a hollow that formed a perfect, still pool until late summer when the water finally evaporated. The other wove through waist-high bracken ferns and stands of paper birches. Everywhere I looked I saw beauty, and my sensitive little mind ached to capture it with words. I guess ugliness can probably fuel the imagination, too, but to this day nothing makes me itch to write like looking at something lovely.
If you can’t arrange to live somewhere absurdly idyllic, at least take your kids to museums or go camping or show them pictures of gorgeous places.
I’m not talking about the ones in book. I’m talking about in the real world. My home town was not very racially diverse, so there weren’t a lot of opportunities for cross cultural experiences. But I had two other sources of colorful characters.
First and foremost, y’all, my mom’s family was crack-ass crazy. One of my uncles got a shoulder injury in a drive by shooting; ALL of my uncles did jail time; a couple of my older relatives got in a fistfight at my brother’s graduation open house; for a while you could google the name of one of my relatives to get a look at his Wanted Poster (put out by the Federal Marshall’s, whoever they are) (he has since been apprehended and the awesome poster is no longer available on line). My mom kept a pistol in her underwear drawer, and my Aunt thought the Smurfs were satanic.
Second, I grew up attending a Pentecostal church. Our minister often shouted and jumped several feet in the air while preaching. I regularly watched people speak in tongues and run barefoot around the sanctuary. I witnessed an attempted exorcism, and my married youth leader was kicked out of the church for having an affair with another (married) youth leader. Sometimes, people, the truth really is stranger than fiction.
All of those colorful characters were, admittedly, a little overwhelming, but I got a much broader idea of what is actually possible than some kids get. Of course I don’t recommend that you adopt a family of bikers or join a cult to foster your child’s creativity, but I DO encourage you to make sure your child has varied experiences and meets a variety of people. I think there’s nothing worse than raising a child in a sanitized, 100% “safe”, “normal” environment. The real world isn’t like that; you aren’t doing your kid any favors by white-washing his or her world. I’m not saying you should ENDANGER your children; I’m saying you shouldn’t be afraid to let them see the world with all it’s splendid eccentricities.
I must end with a little disclaimer: anyone who knows me is probably laughing right now at the idea of me giving parenting advice. My kids are probably laughing hardest of anyone. So, you know, take all of this advice with a whole shaker of salt (and maybe some margaritas). And no lawsuits if your kids turn out like me.