Honing the craft #2: Return to childhood, part 1

The American poet, James Applewhite says that when poets write, “figures and images out of the past crowd about.” When he was small, his uncle used to tell him all the glorious Greek tragedies. He says that when he sat down to write

“the spirits of the heroes and heroines of his land collected around him. Since he was still alive, they wanted him to hear their story, and perhaps tell it among the living. The prophet Tiresias also came forward and told Odysseus how he was to get home safely again successfully. Odysseus may stand for the poet in relation to deep memory. He and she gathers stories out of cultural and personal history; old stories that will be seen in the new form of retelling. Like Odysseus, the poet learns from the past how to get back home to the present, how to live in it more vitally…”

Childhood memories are the origin of our writing. When we explore our childhood, we gain deeper insight into being human, and we learn to inhabit our texts in a new way (through the eyes of a child). Our autobiographies are thus the roots of our writing.

Many people have difficult memories from their childhood that they’d rather not talk about, or share. You are the gatekeeper to your basement, and you control what you want to share, and what not. The dark womb is our first human home. Our writing is about pain and joy, light and darkness, life and death. Once we release the bad memories, we can dedicate the energy that it took to keep them hidden away to our writing. Feel free to discover yourself at your own pace.

So, allow your childhood self to stand at your side, and partake in these exercises with me!


Exercise 1.

What you need: Large paper. Crayons in 3-4 colors. Background music: either Bach or Mozart, or any non-verbal relaxing music.

Go back in your childhood to any age between 4-8 years. Think of a specific room. Get as much detail into your mind about the room. What furniture were there? Tables? Chairs? Where were the door, the windows? Were their curtains or carpets, or pillows? Then draw it.


When you have it done as well as you can remember, take a clean sheet and write for about 15 mins about the room. CONTINUE TO USE THE HAND YOU DON’T USUALLY WRITE WITH! Where was it? What do you remember about the furniture, the carpet, the window?


Exercise 2


Think a moment about something that happened in the room. A specific event. Who was there when it happened? Where were they? What were they doing? What was said? Draw as much detail about this as you can. Who was wearing what? How did their hair look? Can you remember their facial expressions? If you cannot remember every detail, imagine what it might have been and draw it in.

Now, write for 15 minutes about the event you had in mind. This time, write with the hand you usually use, if you want to.

See my exercises in the comments. This could make a really scary story, and I fully intent to write it. Please share your exercise with us in the comments, and if you write a short story from yours, let me know and I’ll post it on the site!


One thought on “Honing the craft #2: Return to childhood, part 1

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  1. Drawing 1:
    This is a room in Grandmother’s house. They lived on a farm, and had lots of fun things to do. Mother worked and we had to go to Grandmother’s when schools were closed. The house was big, and this bedroom was the closest to the kitchen. Everything happened in the kitchen. The lounge was for special visitors, like the reverend and we were never allowed inside, not even when the special guests were there.
    It had a wooden bed, with a pink crochet cover. It also had a dark blue and paisley carpet, which I hated with all my heart. The room stank. Not a dirty stink, but the kind of stink I now know goes hand in hand with illness.
    The room was were Grandpa slept after he got too ill to move, and for a time, Auntie Nan shared the room with him. There was pink curtains, thick and able to make the place look dark as night even when the African sun was glaring outside.
    There was a dressing table next to the bed, on which there were lots of medicine, a craft of water, a plastic bucket with feeding pipes, towels, soap and the Bible.
    I hated everything about the room.

    Drawing 2:
    Grandmother’s house has a room where people go to die. Grandpa was there for a long time. He was old. Then Aunt Nan went too. She was not old. When we stayed for the vacation, we had to kneel on the paisley carpet, elbows on the bed, and pray. I never closed my eyes. I had nightmares that they would die and come at night to kill me because I was noisy and woke them all the time.
    Grandma cried a lot in the death room. Even after they died she sat in the chair and cried and prayed. It made me sad. She prayed that God should come to take them. I did not know where too, and I did not know why. I wondered at night if she hated them. They were bothersome. I was too. Did she ask God to take me too?


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