At risk of sounding like the worst of self-help gurus, I’m going to sound off about the power of play in nurturing (yes, I said nurturing) a consistently productive creative practice. And at risk of insulting the dead, I’m calling for an end to the tortured, self-loathing writer. I’ll begin by telling the story that inspired me to write this.
Despite all my prayers that my son and only child would not struggle with the reticence and hyperconsciousness that I struggled with and that his father struggled with even more and despite the fact that at home he is opinionated and animated (and I mean animated like a cartoon character), he assures me, he is “shy”. Assures isn’t the word—he insists he is shy. So, I try not to dwell on it, not to smother him with encouragement, but to encourage him–damn it–encourage him. Though he was leery about playing basketball for his middle school because of the public spectacle of the competition, he loves to play. He was worried about being on the student news station they show every morning in home room. He was just worried that he’d be too shy to succeed. I acknowledged his feelings and made him try. Now, if he was that shy, there would have been no pushing him. It was to my relief that he reluctantly conceded the point.
How happy was I when he returned from his first practice red-cheeked and smiling? So happy! I knew he would sail through the first three weeks—only practice—and prayed that come time for his first game, camaraderie would trump “shy”. That didn’t exactly happen. The first three games weren’t painful, but I could tell from his reports that he was holding back on the court.
Now, here’s where I get to the point. Friday after the third game, his coach set up a practice based solely on play. He came home elated—chattering about kids laughing so hard they couldn’t dribble.
“You know how I’m usually so shy when I dribble?”
“Uh-huh.” I said.
“Well, today I wasn’t…and he was laughing so hard he couldn’t shoot…and I played so hard.”
“Uh-huh.” I said.
“The point guard said I should be point guard…he said I should be on varsity.”
“Uh-huh.” I said, thinking Yes! Yes! Yes!
And, what do you know? The next game he scored three points and said, “Now that everyone knows I can dribble, the expect me to…”
Yes! Yes! Yes!
I am overjoyed that he is conquering his self-diagnosed shyness, and every day when he comes home, this pattern of growth continues. Yes! Yes! Yes!
What does this have to do with writing? In order to push forward in producing work in spite of all the obstacles we face, there is this too often untapped resource—play. Here are some ways to not take yourself too seriously and so write more and feel better about it:
1. Put on your favorite dance tune. For me that’s Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”. Let loose.
2. Get outside and play first, then write. A tuned-in walk about town? Frisbee? Fetch with the dog?
3. Give yourself permission to write the worst lines. Do it on purpose. Write the sappiest, most trite, worst stuff you’ve ever written. Read it aloud.
4. Bite, poke, or otherwise harass a friend on facebook.
5. Brig a whoopee cushion to your writer’s group.
6. Kick your feet while you write, or engage in playful fidgeting of your choice.
7. Wear a funny hat while you write.
8. Write upside down (intentionally left up to your interpretation).
9. Doodle in the margins.
10. Fill a page with writing. Then, fold it into a paper airplane and send it sailing.