Friday, July 29, 2011

Red, white and blue eagles

On a long car ride across Texas, my six-year-old daughter asked my wife to help her make one of those folded paper “tell your future” things. You know, the ones that go on four of your fingers and you pick a color and then a number and then lift a little flap to see the name of your some-day spouse or the number of kids you are going to have or what sort of house Destiny has waiting for you... You can probably still fold one if you think about it.

Anyway, when it got time to write these future predictions under the flap, my daughter’s suggestions were

1) You will have a pet dolphin
2) Two days after July 4th (known as July 6th in most circles) you will go to Candyland
3) You will see a rainbow tomorrow
4) You will see a red, white, and blue eagle three days after your next birthday.

Now that’s just not something most people would make up. But then I thought about it, and I understood how it would be exactly something a six-year-old would make up. Pure creativity, unfettered by logic, science, or preconceived notions.

Running with that, I dug up a few stories I’d written as a 13-year-old. No need to do that math on how long ago that was, but suffice it to say entire nations have risen and fallen between then and now.

I flipped through the yellowed brittle pages and read a few pages here and there.

I found a me that I’d forgotten. Young Steve couldn’t spell to save his life, and he didn’t care. He didn’t feel it necessary to scrawl his newly discovered cursive handwriting just between the lines either. Young Steve filled every corner of white space on the page. If a sentence needed to curve up the side of the page, upside-down across the top and back down again, so be it. The first section I turned to was about Young Steve transported to a fantasy world filled with all sorts of supernatural creatures. He’d stumbled into the cave of a Medusa, and needed some special item hidden in the cave. The paragraph talked about Young Steve walking up and attacking the snake-haired horror as if her mystical abilities were no problem. Older Steve was confused, and a little angry at the breach in logic. Surely Young Steve knew that the gaze of a Medusa…

Oh, yes, there it was. Reading further, Young Steve revealed he’d used a spell to pop his eyes out and slipped them in his pocket until after the battle was over.


I searched around some more and found a short story I’d written about a cursed potion and getting revenge on bullies. I rewrote that story, cleaned up the grammar, hit spellcheck a few times, and polished the descriptions, and in the end, it turned out to be one of my favorite short stories.

I try to take notes now every time my daughter makes something up, and her mom and I have stacked blank journals and colored writing utensils strategically all around her room. I want to make sure we capture as much of that raw imagination as possible.

So in the next thing you write, call upon the power of Young You. If you are still young, call upon Younger You, from before you could read even. Shove anything that inhibits you aside and lock it in the cellar. There will be time for outlines and plot points and character bios later. Daydream something that would have made you laugh or cry or jump up and yell “Yeah!” as a kid, and write it down. In the meantime, look out for a red, white, and blue eagle three days after your next birthday.
I know I will.


  1. Great post, Steve! I want to be a writer like you when I grow up...

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  3. Love it!

    Yesterday I was playing with some children from my church. One was writing a play, and one handed me one of those little fortune telling paper things you referred to. I got one that said, "In ten weeks, you will have a dog named 'Mo.'"

    I laughed as I wondered where in the WORLD that came from! There were several others, some even funnier and more random, but I've forgotten them already.

    Children are a gift and their imagination and creativity is unrivaled by our "grown-up" minds.

    It's important to remember to unleash that inner child once in a while as we write. Never know what fun could come as a result!

    LaJoie Ward of Thoughts of Joy

  4. Reading this reminded me of my own daughter. She's nearing four at a pace I'd rather not think about. Where did my baby go? Every day she says something new that blows me away, and I often wonder what she would say if I asked her what I should write about today.

    Knowing her current fascination it would have to do with pirates and dinosaurs. Did you know they lived at the same time and interacted together?

    Kids are a great joy, even when they're confusing, stressful, and more energetic than the energizer bunny.