The Joy of Writing Play

Have you watched kids at play recently?


Image courtesy of .dianna. on Flickr Creative Commons

I’m talking pure, imaginative play, where they aren’t necessarily trying to make anything, produce anything, or win anything. They’re just fooling around—mentally trying on different characters, scenarios, and abilities.

They’re making up stories.

Pure play is characterized by a lack of judgment or pressure, and because of that, it frees the imagination. The inner critic doesn’t get much sway here. You don’t often hear kids in the midst of make-believe saying, “That dialog sucks!” or “What a lousy idea!” They might argue over who gets to be the princess or whether that cardboard box is a racecar or a baby carriage, but they don’t usually argue over the worth of the ideas or how those ideas are executed.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

When I started making up stories and writing them down, there was no inner critic present. Why should there have been? I was just playing: making up stories to find out what would happen next, writing the daydreams that I wanted to read and, later, writing chapters about unicorns and kids with magic powers so my younger siblings would beg me for the next installment. It wasn’t until I grew up a bit that I started to worry about things like passive voice, dialog tags, head-hopping, and whether I could write well enough for publication.

The problem is that if we focus entirely on the work of writing (improving our craft, marketing, building platform), it’s easy to forget the joy that brought us to writing in the first place. We forget to play. Our inner critic gains power, and that childlike voice of creativity can be squashed.

Do you ever feel blocked? Stressed about writing? Pressured to produce? Overwhelmed?

Sometimes, the best antidote is play.

Join me tomorrow for some writing play ideas, and give yourself some practice creating without that darned inner critic getting in the way.

Has your experience with the writing process changed over the years? How did you feel as a young writer compared to how you feel now?

The hidden price of "productivity" every writer needs to know -

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more […]


    • says

      Hi Susanna, sorry to hear that nasty inner critic is bending your ear. I’m sending you cyber-crayons for some carefree writing today, okay?

  1. says

    I really needed to read this today, as I’m feeling out of steam when it comes to my writing. What I write these days seems forced. Well, it *is* forced. I’m looking forward to your upcoming posts!

    • says

      Thanks so much for the comment–I’m glad this resonates with you. This is definitely an ongoing struggle in my writing life! I just returned from a writing workshop, though, which gave me an afternoon of playing around with words and images. I’m feeling incredibly recharged! I’ll share some of that tomorrow, and hopefully you’ll get a bit of recharging as well!

  2. says

    I have been having a hard time remembering to “play” as a write. So thanks for this! Looking forward to tomorrow’s post!

    • says

      Hi Jennifer, I think we ALL have a hard time remembering this! We’ll have some fun tomorrow.

  3. says

    Yay for play! There was a very clear turning point in my journey as a writer when I was about 10 years old and went from simply writing for fun to being told, “You ought to be a writer.” Once others upped the ante like that, I began to choke and became very self-conscious in my writing, to the point where I stopped writing for many years. What brought me back to writing was allowing myself to just play around with writing again without any particular expectation.

    Can’t wait to read tomorrow’s post!

    • says

      I know EXACTLY what you mean. I had the same thing happen, and eventually my fear of failure loomed so large that I turned to a different career path entirely. It was only when I was on maternity leave that I let myself start writing again, and when I did it wasn’t with any thought of publication. I just wanted to write for the sake of writing, to see if I even had words inside me.

      I did :). And experience is never wasted, although I ended up ditching my alternate path for a writing life. Now I’m able to use my experience as a molecular biologist to give me some authority as a science and medical writer :).

      I’m so glad you returned to writing, too!

    • says

      Hi there, I’m so glad! Thanks for the encouragement :). I hope you’ll join in the fun tomorrow!

  4. says

    I used to love to watch my kids play when they were little. Cats, action figures, and crayons all tangled up together. Super advice to catch the infectious freedom of play when we write. Thanks, Cheryl.