Today We All Get Permission to Play

Playfulness is a skill that we all need to develop. Today's a good day to get started. |

We've all had the experience of reading a novel that made us envious, right? 

Jealous of another writer's skill, their way with words, their peerless grasp of imagery. Admiring all that they've done. Shaking our heads in amazement.

When I was working on my first novel, that happened to me. I picked up Andrew Peterson's On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. And I was struck by longing.

Yes, the characters, the plot, the incredible storyworld he had built: all of that was wonderful and worth applause. But the thing that really got me, the thing that unearthed a huge amount of envy in me was this:

Andrew Peterson wrote as if he were having fun.

The stakes were still high. The painful moments were real. The evil antagonists were pretty dang evil. 

And yet. A glee bubbled beneath every paragraph. A delight in the words themselves, in wordplay, in the funny moments, in the perfect exchanges of dialogue, in the dangerous-yet-hilarious fantastical animals. 

How did he do it?

And why was I sweating and weeping and frustrated and hating the process of writing, while he seemed to be having fun.

It was a puzzle.

And yeah--we all know that you can write strong, compelling prose even when you're having a hard day, a rough time, a grumpy mood. So I'm not saying he did, in fact, write the whole thing in a state of bliss.

I'm sure it was hard. I have no doubt that he struggled while he wrote. Certainly he's human and works through off days like everyone else.


I'm still convinced he was having a lot more fun than I was. 

And it gets me thinking: What if enjoying writing is as much a skill, a cultivate-able mindset, as much as anything else? 

What if we could all be having fun when we write? 

I love the movie Finding Neverland, and I especially love Johnny Depp's portrayal of J.M. Barrie. I don't know how scrupulously accurate it is or not, but either way:

I want to learn from his playfulness. How open he was to being imaginative. How he was willing to be silly. 

But I need a lot of help figuring out how to do that.

Obviously, children are the experts on knowing how to play, how to imagine, how to embrace silliness. It's one of the many things we need to learn from them.

Have you ever played with bubbles with a kid?

There's no reason to bubbles. There is no why with bubbles. They just ARE. 

They're not going to last, they do absolutely no good, everyone's hands get sticky, and inevitably the bottle tips over, and more than one bubble-making wand gets accidentally (or purposely!) licked. 

But bubbles delight.

And kids do things simply because they are delightful.

When did we lose the value of that?

We get so caught up with what we SHOULD do. We write the characters, the setting, the conflict, the genre that we SHOULD be writing.

Have we lost touch with what honestly, truly, deep-down, bubblemakingly DELIGHTS us?

I think we need to get in touch with our sense of play. 

And today is the perfect time for it. To learn to be playful.  And to play well.

To enjoy freewheeling rush of creation. To write things just because.

To create a character that delights us. To write dialogue that we find funny. To please ourselves first--and maybe ourselves only--with a choice of setting. To write paragraphs that will exist for no other reason than because we like them.

To write nonsense poems. To mimic E. E. Cummings or Ogden Nash or Edward Lear or Edward Gorey or whoever delights you with words.

We need a childlike attention to play. It's serious for them, at the very same moment that it's fun. Have you noticed that? There's a sincerity to their delight, a weight to the glee, a determination to the play. 

They're focused on getting delight right. It matters to them, deeply. 

Maybe because they know that delight is part of living well. 

And isn't that why we're writing, anyway?