In honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I offer this advice (from my point of view as a novelist and a preschool teacher.)
Good luck meeting your writing goals this month!!! 🙂
In the writing world, we often hear about turning off our inner editors so we can freely create our masterpieces without the burden of worrying that our work of art is really a piece of crap. But what if we can’t even begin to create? What if we stare at that annoying-as-heck blinking cursor and no words will come? Not even crappy ones? What if we can’t make our way over the clutter of our lives to the computer desk?
Sometimes it’s not the inner editor preventing us from working. It’s the inner toddler.
That screaming, stomping, whining toddler commands our attention and stands in our way of getting any work done. What can we do about that droopy-diapered monkey who’s climbing over our desk and demanding to be fed right now? I’m far from a writing expert, but I have a lot of experience with young children. So here’s my advice—for me as much as for you—on how to handle the demands of this anti-writing demon.
- Feed her. If you feed a toddler cookies and candy and the yummy-but-bad-for-you stuff, she’ll get all crazy and sick and need even more attention. We don’t want that. Nope, we need to feed her the good stuff. The green stuff. The stuff that’s full of vitamins and minerals and gives you energy and mental clarity. Good nutrition helps productivity.
- Exercise her. Toddlers need to move! Run, walk, dance, wiggle—movement helps the brain in so many ways. Exercising your inner toddler will magically open your creative brain!
- Clothe her. Maybe your inner toddler loves running around naked. Maybe she likes the ratty pajamas she’s insisted on wearing all week. But if she’s not letting you get any work done, maybe she needs to get dressed up to feel like a big kid. Big kids settle down longer than toddlers, right? If words won’t come, something as simple as putting on a pair of decent pants and brushing your hair might help you to feel like the professional you are.
- Entertain her. She’s bored. She’s understimulated. She needs culture, darn it! Writer brains need fuel. If words and ideas aren’t flowing, try something new! Your inner toddler might need a trip to the art museum. She might love to see a show at the local community theatre. (Or, hey, your toddler might be mature enough to handle Broadway!) She might need to eat a meal in a restaurant with real people, or a long walk through a beautiful garden. She might need to run through a field with her bare feet. Your inner toddler needs to experience the world through her senses. Connecting with our senses can help our creativity to flow.
- Socialize her. No matter what a pain a toddler is to take into public, you can’t keep her locked up. Take her some place—a park, a mall, any populated area—and let her watch people. If she wants to scribble some notes, let her. Don’t teach her not to talk to strangers—that advice is outdated, anyway. Random conversations with strangers can lead to sparks of story ideas. When a writer is fed real-life stories, inspiration is sure to follow.
- Read to her. Toddlers need to be read to. Writers need stories the way plants need water. If you’re having a hard time creating a new world on that blank canvas, you may need a reading vacation. Read anything—a book, a magazine, the short story on the Chipotle bag. You’ll remember what made you want to be a writer in the first place.
- Take her to the doctor. Toddlers get sick. They need frequent check-ups. If you’re experiencing any underlying health issues, don’t ignore them. See the professionals. This includes taking care of your toddler’s mental health. Depression, anxiety, and other issues can seriously impair your productivity, but help is available. Please don’t ignore your inner toddler’s cry for help.
- Bathe her. I know, I know. You’re sick to death of hearing about self-care. But we’re not talking about taking care of We’re talking about taking care of your inner toddler. Trust me—if you don’t fill her cup and meet her needs, she won’t let you work. Take the time necessary to care for her the way you would your child, your pet, your aging parent, your partner. Let her take that luxurious bath. Maybe even give her the cool bubbles.
- Indulge her. Let her cry over the sad commercials. Let her binge watch the full season of the latest, greatest show if she needs to. Whatever makes your inner toddler feel cared for is what you should do for her. In moderation, of course.
- Discipline her. Kids need discipline. So, too, do writers. Notice I didn’t say “punishment.” Set goals. Write them down. Achieve them. Repeat. If your inner toddler can’t handle a big goal (she’s not going to learn not to whip her diaper off and toss it across the dinner table the very first time, you know, especially if the entire family broke out in raucous laughter when she did it…), then break the goal into small, manageable goals.
- Give her a cozy corner. Toddlers need friendly spaces that meet their needs. Writers do, too. Whether it’s a desk, a chair, or a wall of your own—designate it as your professional spot and be territorial!
- Nurture her. Use positive reinforcement. She wants to let you create amazing stories. She may just need a nice hug and some kind words. Go ahead. Hug your inner toddler. Don’t be ashamed. Your writing time will be more productive when all of your toddler’s needs are met.