When an empire starts a game, he doesn’t say, “work the ball,” he says, “Play ball!” The old-time baseball player who said this had the right idea.
Edith Wharton used to write while lounging in her bed every morning. She would pen her pages on thick, lustrous paper and then let the pages float down to the floor like leaves. Roald Dahl did his writing tucked in an old gypsy caravan while sitting in an overstuffed companionable chair. And I remember reading that whenever he had a deadline looming, a well-known cartoonist simply lay down on his sofa for a nap and virtually without fail, a workable idea would float into his head — and he would grab it and run with it.
What strikes me most about these examples is that they all involve a relaxed attitude toward the job at hand physically, which seems to translate into a relaxed mental state in which ideas and image often seem to bubble up.
One key to reaching this relaxed state is taking a playful approach to writing. Natalie Rusk of MIT’s Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group has spent more than 20 years researching learning and creativity. Here’s what she’s learned about what play brings us: “Play teaches us to relax, explore, connect. If you’re on an airplane and the pilot makes a joke in his announcement, that’s a kind of play that puts people at ease. A really great yoga teacher will help you approach the poses in a spirit of delight. Play is also a great way to learn about resilience. When a child plays, she fails and revises: My blocks fell over! I’ll try again.”
Humor relaxes us and opens us up. Summoning up a spirit of delight about the day’s work can bring us closer to our wellspring of creativity. And rediscovering the mindset a child has about making mistakes can help us adopt a more relaxed a playful stance when they happen. Think about a baby trying to walk: She or he will tumble down over and over again, but keep trying. And when a stumble happens, there’s no angst, no self-blaming, no sense of defeat, no giving up: there’s only the next opportunity to try again until the desired outcome is achieved.
So let’s take a tip from the playground and be more playful and less protective of our need to “get it right” all the time. Let’s be more willing to dive in, make mistakes, get messy, and adjust our game plan until things start to come together. And let’s write on!
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