The Play’s The Thing by Shan Jeniah Burton

Hi there! Today, I want to talk about playing.
What’s that? Play doesn’t sound very motivational?
Maybe not. I know traditional wisdom holds that commitment, dedication, self-discipline, schedule, and consistency are the path to attaining a goal, no matter what it is. I’m not saying these things aren’t important, because they do all have their places – unless you happen to know someone with a functioning magic wand, or your pages appear perfectly at the ends of your fingertips, with agents knocking down your door, carrying offers from publishers in their hands.
No? Me either, actually.
This space will have many posts that help with those areas of writing.
Me? I’d rather play.
Along with being a writer, I’m also the homeschooling mom of two children. Much of my time and energy is focused on providing a life rich in experience and opportunities for play and discovery. They are avid, curious, continuous learners, and what they discover, through their play-filled lives, goes far wider and deeper than any planned curriculum ever could.
To me, being part of and witness to the way my children learn is confirmation that humans learn best through play.
From infancy, we are geared to play:
  • The newborn learns to smile in playful response to mom or dad.
  • The older baby rolls over in the quest to reach a toy.
  • The toddler learns to eat while painting every surface and grasps gravity by dropping nearly everything in sight.
Most of us, at least in America, went to school as children of five or six. And there we were, for a good chunk of the rest of our formative years. Play became something relegated to recess, after school (if homework and chores permitted it), weekends, or those covert moments we could steal from other parts of our lives.
Play became something equated with “goofing off” , laziness and wasting time – the opposite of commitment, dedication, and work ethic.
But what if that isn’t true?
We are writers for a reason, or many reasons. But I’m willing to bet that most of us, when we began, were passionate, because writing brought us joy, happiness, and the pureness of play.
I have a cabinet filled with handwritten notebooks. I’ve been filling them for years, because a story grabbed me, and wouldn’t let me go, and I needed to give it a voice. Many of these aren’t publishable, and, even for those that might be, I’m not likely to do it.
I wrote them as play, just for myself. They’re pure fantasy, and I want to keep them that way. I’m developing other projects for publication; these are just for my own titillation. I share them with a few very trusted others, but that isn’t why I wrote them.
They were explorations: of my own depths and breadths, of ideas that I knew would never be for public consumption, as a place to experiment without consequence, or pour forth emotions it wouldn’t be wise to share publicly.
And they fed my creative spirit in a way that only play can.
Because I give myself space to play:
  • my other writing touches deeper and more intuitive places within me.
  • I make connections I might not make otherwise.
  • I’m braver; more willing to take chances with my writing.
  • I know what delights me, and what I want to spend my time on.
  • There is a breath of fresh air in all my writing.
  • I don’t resent the more mundane tasks that are part of building a writing career.
  • I’m generally optimistic, and probably more fun to be around.
  • My mind gets time to drift, wander, simmer, revel, renew, and rest.
This round, I’m focusing on play. I intend to approach my goals with a sense of play and adventure; to blend those important things like dedication and consistency with wonder and delight. I’m leaving myself lots of room to explore the cow trails I find along the way, to imagine and fantasize and toy with ideas even when I can’t see them leading anywhere I can exploit as a part of a career plan.
I want to stretch, discover, grow, and learn….
Would you like to play with me? =)

6 thoughts on “The Play’s The Thing by Shan Jeniah Burton

  1. I love this, Shan. I think I’ve forgotten how to play, and along with that I’ve lost some of the delight that used to come with writing, back when I was 12 and didn’t know anything about publishing or platform or quality. You’ve got me wondering about ways to recapture that feeling. Thank you!

    1. Siri,

      Maybe try doing some of the things you did when you were 12, and writing just for pleasure.

      That’s why I have my Star Trek fanfic. Eden Mabee and I started writing it when we were 13, and, though I treat it as seriously as my other writing, I do it only for me, because I love it.

      Some simple things – splashing in puddles, playing with kids or pets, staring at the clouds or stars, using crayons…

      May you rediscover the joy of play! =)

  2. Hi Shan. I, too, have forgotten how to play. I didn’t even realize it until my roommate pointed it out. Play always seemed like something that would take away from “more important” things. You’ve really given me something to think about.

    Thanks! Play could really help my stress level, I think.

    1. Lara,

      I can tell you, after five years of watching my children learn and grow through play, that play might be the most important thing for enjoying life.

      And I have spent these last five years with very low stress, so there could be something in that.

      It doesn’t have to take long to play, but it is so worth it! =)

  3. I think making room for a sense of playfulness and adventure in life is crucial, not just for our creative practice, but for creating a life well-lived. As children, we are naturals at this, but as we get older, our playfulness and sense of exploration can become dulled and confined.

    I admit that I don’t make as much room for play in my life as I should. Thanks for the reminder! Maybe I’ll have a little mini-adventure this week! 🙂

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