Playing More Could Help Your Writing

I finally watched Stranger Things, the Netflix series about frightening forces at work in a small town.

The first episode starts with four boys playing a role-playing game that includes monsters.

A few of my games.

When one boy disappears, the others draw from the rules and the magic of their game to help search for him. As is also true in many Stephen King novels, magic and imagination are key to confronting evil.

Play is key to real life, too, especially for writers.

There’s a reason we often get our best story ideas or solve a plot issue as we drift off to sleep or when we dream. To be creative, our minds need to relax and rest and play.

But it’s not easy to play.

Most of life, especially when you’re juggling multiple responsibilities, is scheduled and goal-oriented. Writing can add to that, as fitting it in often means putting every free half hour (or every fifteen minutes) toward our latest project.

That’s a good way to make progress on a novel, and I’m a big fan of schedules and goals, lists and plans. But doing things that are solely for fun, that have no end goal, is what sparks creativity. It helps avoid writer’s block.

Also, it’s fun.

So what counts as play?

Peter Gray, Ph.D., in a blog on Psychology Today, noted that Play is:

  1. self-directed and self-chosen;
  2. an activity where the means matter more than the ends;
  3. has rules, but they’re created by the player’s minds, not required by physical necessity;
  4. is imaginative, not literal, and is in some way removed from “real life”;
  5. involves an alert and active, but not stressed, state of mind.

Over the last few years as I’ve cut back on my law practice, I’ve added more play. I’ve played air hockey and laser tag. Yesterday night I visited the Jurassic Park exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum.

I also like board games, and next month I’m meeting with some writer friends at the Galloping Ghost Arcade. You can play arcade games all day for $20, and I’ve heard it has the classics from my childhood. (My favorites were Q-bert, Galaxian, and Ms. Pacman.)

Looking back, much as I’m happy that I wrote a lot even when I was working 55-65 hours a week at law, I’m pretty sure I would have been happier, and possibly also finished my novels more quickly, had I occasionally written a little less and played a little more.

How about you?

If you were going to write less and play more, what would you play?

Until Friday—

L.M. Lilly

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