About two years ago, when my eldest daughter was 5 and my second child was 3, we settled into a bedtime routine that ended with mommy (me) telling my daughters “a story from my heart.” They (we) cherished this time and they eagerly looked forward to what mommy would come up with each night. I would rack my brain, trying to come up with something clever and interesting off the top of my head. I learned quickly that the simplest stories, where the action took place in their world, were the ones that they enjoyed the most. They loved fantasy elements, magic and fairies where anything happened. I could make anything up and they just went with it.
I don’t know why, but we (I) stopped telling those stories about a year ago. Then, just this week, my eldest (now 7), asked me to tell her a “story from my heart” as I was putting her down to bed. She asked “Why don’t we do that anymore?” “I don’t know,” I replied, and then settled onto her bed and began to make up a story. She asked me again for one the next night, and so the routine begins again.
I forgot how challenging it was to come up with content so quickly off the top of my head. I am a thinker and, as a writer, need to plot out my story sequences. However, there is no time for that with this exercise. I forgot how fun it was to make up whatever I wanted, because I knew my kids would go with whatever I told them. I forgot how much they love anything, even if I am censoring myself as I am telling the story, thinking, “This is terrible. Where is this story going?” I forgot how much the exercise gave me each night in the area of creativity and story ideas. Because the stories were created out of my kids’ every day worlds, they were often fodder for some great picture book ideas that I could use to develop later.
Taking up this practice again has reminded me of some basic writing tools that are worth stating:
– Kids love stories about their world. It is all about them. The more details (names, places, etc.) resemble their every day life, the more tickled they become.
– Children love surprise. Whether it is magic, fantasy or a twist at the end, finding some element or hook that takes them off in a new direction tickles them.
– Spend time with your readers. This is obvious and easy for parents with kids, but it isn’t always easy. I sometimes use my kids to bounce material off of, but I hadn’t realized that they could help me with my creative process so actively. They often inspire the stories, but this exercise is more direct.
– Practice makes perfect. We should take any and all opportunities to hone our storytelling skills. These bedtime stories are making me a better writer, giving me instant feedback as to what my readers like and don’t like so much.
As a mom, I am touched that my “stories from the heart” meant enough to my daughter to want to rekindle them. As a writer, I am grateful for the lessons. Our children always have so much to teach us. How about that for writer’s inspiration?!