Creative people often acknowledge that they respect and make use of their childhood interests, experiences and personalities, perhaps in ways that other people don’t, or tend to discard as adults.
Feeling joyful and enthusiastic, unhurried, unstructured and uncritical as a kid are all qualities that can encourage creativity.
But there are also dark sides of childhood for many people that can also motivate powerful writing and other creative work.
In his article Manhood for Amateurs: The Wilderness of Childhood, author Michael Chabon wrote, “People read stories of adventure—and write them—because they have themselves been adventurers.
“Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity.”
Actor William H. Macy once commented, “Nobody became an actor because he had a good childhood.” (From my article Actors and Addiction.)
That is a bit extreme, but there may be a lot of truth in it.
Others acknowledge that there is value in our way of thinking and responding to life when we were children.
– Lucy Liu, Actor and Producer (imdb.com)
Roots of creativity
Psychologist Teresa Amabile thinks “The kernel of creativity is there in the infant: the desire and drive to explore, to find out about things, to try things out, to experiment with different ways of handling things and looking at things.
“As they grow older, children begin to create entire universes of reality in their play.”
But she also points out a number of ways creativity can get shut down – which can also apply to adults:
“Surveillance: Hovering over kids… Evaluation: Making kids worry about how others judge what they are doing… Competition: Putting kids in a win/lose situation… Overcontrol: Telling kids exactly how to do things… Pressure: Establishing grandiose expectations for a child’s performance.”
Here are a couple of examples of childhood experiences inspiring creative work.
Alan Ball, writer, producer, director of the films Towelhead and American Beauty, and TV series Six Feet Under and True Blood, has related an event when he was 13 years old: “I was in a car accident with my sister, who was driving the car. It was her 22nd birthday, and she died. She died in front of me. That’s why death seems to be a theme that appears in all my stuff.”
J.K. Rowling wore “very thick National Health glasses” as a child, and thinks “that’s why Harry [Potter] wears glasses.”
She was shy with “a mixture of insecurities. That whole thing about Harry being able to fly so well is probably total wish fulfillment.”
She says Hermione was “based almost entirely on myself at the age of 11. She is really a caricature of me. Like Hermione, I was obsessed with achieving academically, but this masked a huge insecurity. I think it is very common for plain young girls to feel this way.”
Career change expert Valerie Young notes, “The first place to search for clues to your present day passion is in your own childhood. I once read about a man, who, as a young boy loved to make sand castles.
“Guess what he does for a living now? He runs a company that travels around the world making elaborate sand sculptures for ocean-side special events!”
Martha Stewart is another example of using childhood experience very successfully and creatively. Her mother taught her to cook and sew, and about canning and preserving, while her father passed on his knowledge and passion for gardening.
[Photo at top: “Future Picasso?” by sallylondon (apparently removed from her flickr collections) – also used in my post Childlike creativity: Nurturing Your Creative Mindset.]