When I was a child I was so into reading, writing, and drawing. I had a monumental imagination that kept me entertained for hours and hours. I would shut my bedroom door, tie a rope around my teddy bears waist, sit on my bed with my legs up the wall and my head hanging off the edge of the bed, and pretend I was on a crucial and challenging quest. My co-explorer had fallen off a cliff and I was pulling them back up with all the strength I could muster. To anyone else I must’ve looked like a strange little kid, alone with my teddy, with all the blood rushing to my head. To me; I was in a completely different, exciting world, filled with dangerous glaciers and wild animals. A world that belonged solely to me.
I went through a phase where I had an imaginary dog called Benjie; and I also adamantly believed in fairies, Father Christmas, birthday wishes, and all things that were wonderfully impossible.
I remember long days in the summer holidays where I would sit at my own little table at my Grandma’s house, drawing until my hand ached. I would only stop occasionally; either to eat my chicken nuggets, or to crawl along the carpet on my belly, telling Grandma:
‘Help! I’m stuck under the floorboards and can’t get out!’
I read all sorts of books that sparked my creativity throughout my childhood, and my teenage years. The older I got; the quicker I read… I think I actually managed to read ‘Eclipse’ in a day, and ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ in 2 or 3 days. I just loved reading, and feeling part of stories which I related to much more than my own life. It was my love of reading which developed my love of writing… I would often write short stories, which I’d read to my family or friends once I’d finished. I vividly remember writing a story about a girl called Delilah and her dog, Red, which my Grandma praised passionately; telling me that one day I would be an author.
My creative spark burned for a long time, until the day came where my Grandma sadly passed away. Since that time 8 years ago, I have found it inexplicably hard to utilise the untamed imagination I once had- or even to identify if that imagination still existed.
This really resonated in me today.
I’ve been trying to get back into writing; hence the blog posts (which I still find difficult, but I am writing based on experience rather than creating new ideas). What I’d really love; is to be able to write stories again. Now I’m older, and wiser, and a bit more aware of the ways of the World, I can’t shake this feeling that if I could just unlock the door that has been shut for all these years and let it all out, I could possibly, maybe, potentially, write something quite… good.
I bought a writer’s workbook a while back called ‘Ready, Set, Novel!’ which aims to help you map out your ideas to guide you on your way to writing a novel. The first activity in the book is a blank box which you have to completely fill with absolutely anything. It could be lists, drawings, doodles- just anything your brain conjures up! This morning as I sat, pencil in hand, ready to make my first mark in this workbook, my mind was mush. Thoughts –of nothing specific, but thoughts nonetheless– were whizzing around my brain, bumping into each other, cluttering and suffocating my mind, leaving me unable to express a single thing in this box. I fell at the first hurdle of releasing my long-captive creativity.
The reality is, I know exactly why this is.
When I was young, I was reckless with my imagination. I didn’t map out stories I wanted to write, I didn’t think about pictures I wanted to draw, I didn’t have 101 other things to be doing between periods where I could sit down and read… I wrote whatever story I wanted to tell write at that minute, I drew whatever images were in my mind, and I read for days in a row because I had nothing but time on my hands. Every picture I drew, every story I wrote was always met with praise and adoration; because I was a child? Because my Grandma loved me and wanted me to feel capable? Because people actually enjoyed them? I’ll never know, but the praise meant something to me. It made me feel like I had a gift.
All sorts of things affected me as a teenager (much the same as most other teenagers), not just my Grandma’s death- but my wonderful advocate was gone, and life was suddenly much less colourful, and much more serious. I think I spent a long time not even trying to be creative; I was disinterested in art, in books, in writing; in anything that wasn’t ‘real’. By the time I started to revisit these outlets, I found I just couldn’t reconnect with them.
Where I would have once put pen to paper and just, drew… how could I do that now without knowing what to draw first? Without an eraser and a ruler and all sorts of other tools to get it right?
Where I would have once let my fingers slide across a keyboard creating fiction… I couldn’t imagine how I ever even did that now. How could I have sat and just wrote, without mapping out names, plots, researching locations and careers, and delving into degree level psychology to profile a character.
Where I would have once sank myself into a book I loved… where would I find the time to do that properly now? Between work, and responsibilities, I only get to read once every couple of weeks.
My problem was and is, I’m striving for perfection, where I never did before.
I put such limitations on my own imagination and my own creativity, because I think if it doesn’t look or sound perfect then it’s a waste of time, and I haven’t got it right. And it’s not just my creativity that’s limited by this mind set. In most areas of my life I strive for perfection and constantly feel like I’ve done a bad job when I haven’t reached it… I take on too much because I feel I should do it all myself, because I can do it my way, and try and make it the best it can be.
Really… I’m a bit of a control freak.
Long gone are the days where my biggest fan would be celebrating and encouraging the ramblings of a young girl who didn’t care for structure and systems. I’ve developed a need to be in control of all things, which has ironically taken control over so many aspects of my life… which I’m sure is totally normal! Through life, things happen, and your walls go up to protect yourself. That’s exactly what I’ve done, I’ve built up walls that, in efforts to keep the bad things at bay, have also shut out my imperfect, nonsensical, but pretty damn vast imagination, and have crushed all belief in my own capability of expressing that vast imagination in creative and interesting ways.
I’ve been trying to fit creativity into a box, making pictures to scale and stories that reflect every minute detail of reality. But, isn’t creativity supposed to have no boundaries? It’s supposed to run free, be imperfect, exciting, impossible, and a reflection of you- the real you.
So, if you’re like me, and put restrictions on yourself in the pursuit of perfection- join me in this completely average epiphany…
Take time to work on your imagination. Find that dusty box in the back of your mind where you’ve packed away multiple beautiful universes, wonderful people, crazy 3 headed polar bears, and whatever else has been shut in there. Even if you have no intention of writing, or drawing, or putting your creativity to any specific use… just find the imagination you had at 3 years old, 6 years old, 11 years old, 15 years old, and let it comfort you. Let your capability of creating completely unique and wonderful scenes and scenarios remind you how incredibly special, and amazing you are, in all of you imperfection.
We’re so tied down by the restraints of everyday life- of what we can’t be, and can’t afford. It’s so easy to forget what our minds are capable of. From now on- no more wasted energy and worry on reports and spreadsheets that I’m 95% sure no one actually reads. From now on- I intend to start putting my minds full potential to rediscovering my childlike heart, and delving into unknown worlds, full of all things magical, unreal, impossible, and beautiful.
How about you?