As a child, I learned two things from Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh:
- Keep a journal
- Say “I don’t know,” if you don’t.
I can’t imagine how different my life would be right now if I hadn’t learned, early on, that it’s a good idea to write your thoughts down, and that it’s okay to admit you don’t know something and ask questions.
I wouldn’t be writing this blog post, for one thing. I developed the habit of exploring myself and my world on paper when I started journaling and have kept it up ever since, no matter what else was going on.
I wouldn’t have become a family doctor, for another thing. In order to be a good family doctor, in my opinion, you have to be able to admit when you don’t know something. Family doctors can take care of a lot of different problems, but about 15% of the time, we need help from our specialist colleagues. Even more often than that, we need more information from the patient, family, or caregivers. It’s hard to get information if you are acting like you already know everything.
These days I read a lot of children’s books to my 2-year-old son. As an adult and a writer trying to improve my craft, I have begun learning in a different way. When I read a book over and over (and over and over) I either get really bored or I learn something from it. I think I’m past the bored phase (I hope) and into the learning phase.
As an example, I recently learned (or re-learned) that a fresh metaphor or simile is priceless.
In Skippyjon Jones in the Dog House, author Judy Schachner starts a new scene this way:
“Quiet as a cotton ball, Skippito rolled into his closet.”
Now, what could be more quiet than a cotton ball? I can’t think of anything. And Skippyjon Jones is a white Siamese kitten, making the metaphor even more suited to him. This is a very simple comparison, but it was so surprising and called up such a great image that it made me happy to read that sentence—every single time!
Another lesson comes from Dr. Suess. While any Dr. Suess book is a primer on excellent use of rhythm and rhyme, it is also a primer on good writing. Here’s an example from the classic Green Eggs and Ham.
“You do not like them.
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Try them and you may, I say.”
While this stanza, which heralds the climax of the book, is a rhyme with great rhythm, I’d like to point out that it also has complete sentences. None of the six sentences, some only two words long, is a fragment. I don’t think that’s an easy thing to do. It makes me want to see how concise I can be and still write complete sentences.
Who knows, I might learn something new.
What have you learned from children’s books?
Diane MacKinnon, MD, is currently a full-time mother, part-time life coach. She is a family physician and a Master Certified Life Coach, trained by Martha Beck, among others. She is passionate about her son, her writing and using her mind to create a wonderful present moment. Find her life coaching blog at www.dianemackinnon.com/blog.
For those of you near Hudson, NH, I’m offering a free, 1-day writing retreat at the public library on September 15th. I’ll provide the structure, you provide the writing! For more information, click here.