Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Importance of Play

I haven't been posting much lately because I have been seriously head down/nose to the grindstone on my novel. It's going well, though slow. Lately I've been asking myself why I'm still working on it even though I know the reasons: I'm a writer, I love my characters, I love how this story has changed and deepened, I have an agent who wants to see it when it's done and this offers the very real prospect of reaching the next stage in my goal of becoming a published author. All good reasons.

I've been thrilled, as I work on this latest round of revisions, how the novel has become better. There's more balance to the characters, the plot holds together in a much more cohesive way, ideas I had at the very beginning of the writing have blossomed in ways I could not have foreseen three years ago.

But still...the day-to-dayness of it was starting to get to me. And there are several deadlines looming over my head that were making the writing drag, and I was starting to feel a distinct lack of joy for the work.

Then I got involved in this massive Internet scavenger hunt: GISHWHES.

It's one week long, and you work with a team of friends to complete as many of the 155 items listed as you can before the end of the contest. Documentation of the completed task is either a photo or a video, and it's fun stuff like dressing up as a distressed princess with a sign that reads "A dragon destroyed my castle" and collecting money that gets donated to a local food bank or dressing your car up as your prom date.

I'm working on a lot of the written task, like creating the team manifesto, but there's a lot of work that goes into brainstorming how to do each task as creatively as possible (make an article of clothing from tea bags, got it; create an image of Viking rats, all over it).

Above all, it's fun and it's creative.

And, above all, it's reminded me how important it is to PLAY.

One of the first tasks our team completed was dressing a rooster in a t-shirt with the GISHWHES logo on it. It probably tells you something about my team that this was one of the first tasks we did. But it was awesome (though the rooster did not really enjoy it and one of the cats kept staring at him with a look of horror on his face).

That night, I went home and worked on the novel. By chance, I was at a point where my main character lies down on a bed and goes to sleep. At first I wrote that he doesn't dream, then I thought, wait, how about if he dreams about a rooster in a t-shirt? So I wrote that instead. And then the rooster started walking away from him. And then it was in his school. And then there was writing on the shirt that he couldn't read and he didn't know why he was trying to catch the rooster. And then, suddenly, there was this amazing dream in the novel that works so well symbolically and, above all, it was FUN to write. And, even better, the creative energy started flowing, and I got through a scene that I've been dreading (not so much because it was a difficult scene to write, but one of those moments when you realize that other people are going to be reading what you write and start worrying about what they're going to think of you when they do) and got to the end of the chapter I'm working on and it all feels GREAT.

Why is play so important to creativity? Because playing lets you try things you wouldn't normally do. It lets your brain take it all less seriously. And that, of course, is the secret to doing things that are surprising and unexpected when you write.

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