“If writing is about the play of ideas, that word ‘play’ must be given more than lip service. Writing has to have some ‘play’ in it like a bridge cable. Writing has to have some ‘play’ in it like a jump rope. Writing has to have some ‘play’ in it like the ‘play’ of light across a field when the sky is dappled with clouds. Writing, in other words, must be large enough, loose enough, relaxed enough to contain all the multiplicity of a full life.”
This playful paragraph comes from a chapter of Julia’s wonderful guide The Right to Write called “Being an Open Channel.” In it, she talks about the importance of playfulness in the writing process — of letting go of our need for results and all kinds of special conditions — and just letting ourselves create. She believes that we need to think of ourselves not as “authors” encumbered with lots of baggage about how and what we should write, but as metaphorical “midwives.”
Authoring something suggests that our ego is involved and that we have certain predetermined expectations about the results we want. If we think of ourselves as “giving birth’ to a piece of work, then our attitude and approach are likely to be very different: we tend to see ourselves as a channel, a vehicle for the words that flow through us.
Thinking of yourself as a channel or vehicle rather than as an author can be very liberating, especially if you are in the early, generative stage of creating something new. It shifts your emphasis from controlling your material to receiving it, from “telling” something to your readers to listening to something that the universe wants to tell you.
If you can make this shift, then you free yourself from pressure and invite inspiration to come calling. And when we have inspired moments in which we put ego aside, forget about the need to write well, and get out of our own way, then we are often handed a gift: a phrase, a thought, or an image that breaks open the story we want to tell — one that makes it bigger, fresher, more exciting. These moments are rare, but they usually come when we are playful, not when we’re straining to create. Playfulness can be an open door to something wonderful and unexpected. Write on!