Despite what our brains might think, the work of a writer isn’t just sitting down in front of that blank page and making stuff up. It isn’t all about word counts, revisions, and editing, either. It’s not only about that dear book baby that finally emerges from all your passion and effort.
Being a writer encompasses all of the things that you do in your life.
How so? Well, our story ideas have to come from somewhere, right? Fantasy author Tad Williams says that stories are everywhere, just waiting to be discovered. But it takes someone with a certain mindset to even perceive the stories that lurk within our daily lives.
Despite our best efforts to quantify it, the creative process is largely a mysterious one. Ideas come to us seemingly from the blue. Our most potent inspirations zap in like a lightning bolt. Often our best writing will feel like it flowed through us from somewhere else.
But where? The inner world of imagination, of course.
Many words have been written about how to encourage your muse. Most of these ideas are good ones, like: write every day, to get yourself in the mental habit; keep your writing and editing hats separate; keep the story-planning process loose, so the characters can take you where they will.
I’d like to expand this encouragement beyond the traditional notions, though. Are you ready for this?
I suggest that, as a writer, it’s very important that you include plenty of play time in your daily life.
Did she say play time?
I certainly did.
Playfulness is one of the best ways to expand and connect with your imagination. We live in a culture that puts play last. Leisure time is what you get when you’ve finished all your work, and when and if that ever happens, you’re normally too tired to be able to really commit yourself to play. Play is for children, and those who are lazy or otherwise weird.
That’s bunk. For writers, and other creative types (and probably everyone), play is essential. Consider it part of your work.
Playing, however we define it, allows the imagination a space in which to flourish, to expand. It takes our thoughts away from mundane tasks and routine worries, into a wide-open space where sparkling sea turtles dance with pirate mermaids who wear their hearts on their tattooed sleeves.
Play is an attitude, one that merges the imaginary with the real in a delightful stew of creativity. When you allow it, playfulness becomes a part of the tapestry of your daily life.
What kind of play should you engage in, then, in order to tap into your own imagination lands? The key is to do something that feels really fun and delicious to you. Sure, you’ll probably have some guilt or resistance. We’re not often encouraged to move toward things that feel terrific.
Do it anyway.
Here are some tips for finding your playful pleasures:
Look for play that actively engages you. I’m a lifelong bookworm, and reading novels feels fantastic. I’d even say that it’s part of what inspires me as a writer. But play is a bit less passive than reading or watching TV. Choose play that gets your body, mind, or both up and moving.
Try something new that you’ve always wanted to do. Make your experience about the process rather than the outcome. You might want to build a kite, walk a slack line, or learn to foxtrot. Take it as a given that you’re not going to be good at something right away. Let go of perfectionism and engage your sense of adventure.
Daydream without guilt. Writers are folks who regularly go off on wild flights of the imagination, playing within the space of our mind’s eye. So why always be trying to rein ourselves in? Go with the imaginative flow!
Borrow a little kid. Young children are masters of play and being in the moment. Go on a fun playdate with a willing five-year-old. Jump right into their imagination games and become a rescuer of faeries or slayer of poison bats. Play it up!
Follow your yesses. We are often being invited to events, parties, gatherings, road trips, and other doings. Forget about calculating which ones you are obligated to attend and which you can safely ignore. Look for the ones that sound amazingly fun, and say yes to those! Get outside of your comfort zone, but in ways that will amp up your joy factor. Hula hooping workshop? Oh yes, please!
Summer is the perfect time to get into the habit of playfulness. There are beaches, pools, backyard parties, and music festivals galore. Start today, and cultivate a habit of playing in ways that light up your imagination. Your writing, and your personal happiness, will soon reap the benefits!
Nikki Starcat Shields