Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.
I think that play is the missing element in most adults’ (and sadly, many children’s) lives, and that without a playful attitude – one of openness, curiosity, interest in the process over inclination to pre-judge the outcome – we dam up our own creative impulses and miss out on some of the most rewarding experiences life has to offer us. The idea that we’re sitting down to write a great State of the Nation novel is paralysing – the idea that we’re going to sit down to see where one little writing prompt might take us suggests that we might actually enjoy the process.
As the psychiatrist Stuart Brown says,
Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.
I see play as a way of limbering up our creativity, like the barre exercises professional ballet dancers do every morning before getting on with the ‘work’ of learning new choreography. By playing with words, every day, you demystify them, and feel excited by them. I think this is why a low-stakes free writing daily practice, like the ‘morning pages’ first advocated by Dorothea Brande and then Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way is such a common basis for creative practice. It’s a way of getting out ahead of your Inner Critic (who causes you to self-censor and stop writing) and just get the words down on paper. Equally, a half hour with craft paper, glitter glue, marker pens and scissors might be just what your brain needs before you sit down to write.
What did you love to do for play when you were eight years old? Is there a way to do some version of that now, every day, even if only for ten minutes? You might just be surprised to see what that releases in you and how it affects your writing.
* (That’s Maslow as in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs by the way…)