What happens to us as we grow up? We tend (most of us, although maybe writers are less prone to it) to lose our sense of play. We focus on work, being respectable members of society, raising children, earning a living. All important things, to be sure, but when we have time off from those things, don’t most of us spend it on TV or internet? Or maybe cleaning. Ugh. Who needs cleaning?
The older I get the more I believe in the power of play, even for serious adults. Especially for creative folks. We might think being creative is playful enough, but I don’t think so. In addition to being a writer, I am also a musician. In both creative worlds, there is a high expectation of, if not perfection, at least attempts at perfection. The sense of play is often lacking. Trying so hard to just get it right, to make it good, just doesn’t leave room for play.
Okay, so what do I mean when I say ‘play’? I mean, being childlike in any endeavor. How do children approach anything? They try stuff. They might fall. Or get hurt. But that doesn’t stop them from trying. They don’t think about if they’re doing it right. They think about whether it’s fun. If so, they’ll keep doing it. If not, they stop. Children immerse themselves in fun. They forget time. They forget eating and peeing. (Okay, maybe I’m not recommending that.) They don’t judge themselves or others in terms of the rightness of their activity or how good they are at it. They are just having fun.
A sense of play is important in life and in creativity. It helps free our minds of the internal critic. It helps reduce stress. It helps keep us young. And I think it helps nourish the creative centers in our brains. Often, it has nothing to do with the things we are trying to be creative at. Or playful at.
Here are a few things that bring me a sense of play:
- Riding my bike down a hill really fast
- Hiking around the mountains aimlessly.
- Reading a really good book and getting lost in it
- Being out of the city and away from all electronic devices.
- Swimming or just playing in the water/sprinklers
- Playing music with friends without intent to perform it
All of these things have something important in common. I used to do them as a kid, in fact they sum up pretty well what I spent time doing as a kid. So to me, they reflect my sense of play.
The next question is, how does this translate to my writing? Can I let loose and write with the same abandon as riding my bike down a big hill? I can. I can let myself write freely without thinking, judging, or worrying–at least a first draft if not more. Can I turn off the inner critic and not worry about “performing?” I can. We need to write for ourselves first, then worry about whether others will want to also read it.
The more I play in my life, the more I can play in my writing, which makes the writing better. Not necessarily easier, but better.
Here’s to finding your sense of play!