Writing as play
We’re drinking tea and chatting, my sister and I, at the kitchen table. It’s been ages since we’ve seen each other. We’re talking about my six-year-old son, who, earlier, marched us all into his bedroom to watch his ‘Animal Olympics’. The competitors were a series of toys, including a stuffed dog, a dinosaur and a Ninja turtle who were hurled across the room or over a series of obstacles for the glory of their designated countries. [I think the dog - who has the rather prosaic name ‘Doggy’ - was Team GB]. Later, there was a lengthy award ceremony and heaven help anyone who wasn’t giving the proceedings their full attention.
So my sis was marveling at the little chap’s total focus and how absorbed he was in the minutiae of his carefully crafted game.
‘He reminds me of you when you were little,’ she said. ‘You’d play for hours with your dollies. It was like you had a whole world going on in your head that no one else could see…’
I remember this well. I sometimes used to sneakily play with my toys with one eye on the door, long after the time when I was meant to have outgrown them. What does all this have to do with writing, I hear you ask? Well, quite a lot. Because when my sister said it, I realised things haven’t changed all that much. Except now I’m all grown up with children of my own, I no longer play those complicated games with my Barbies and Sindies. I make people up and put them on paper instead.
I bet if I could take a straw poll of all the writers who visit Strictly Writing, the vast majority of you will have played highly imaginative games as children. But maybe all children play this way, and writers are just the ones who never quite grow out of it?
It’s important to remember the playfulness that exists within writing because we all know there are enough hard bits to test us. The rejection letters, writer’s block, RSI and writer’s bum are nothing to smile about. It can sometimes feel as though you’re banging your head against a brick wall, and, sniff, nobody loves you. But when a character starts to take on a life of their own, or you write a scene that makes you giggle out loud, that’s when you’re playing again, just like the child you once were.
So if you’re starting to feel as though this writing business is all about drudgery and pain, try to remember that none of us, even those with the undoubted pressure of a three book deal, has a gun to their head to make them write. Remember how it felt when your imagination could turn a laundry basket into a space rocket, or the end of the garden into a pirate ship and allow yourself to make believe.