Learn how play can help improve your writing

Girl blowing bubbles to show how play can help improve your writing
Bubbles are a great feel-good summer activity.

Better weather can make us reminisce about what we did during our younger summers. The freedom of unlimited time to play with no constraints felt amazing. What if you could capture that feeling again, even if it was only for a short while? You can use play to help improve your writing.

That is what I want to talk about in this blog post. Not only is play beneficial for our mental health but also for our writing. And if you have children in your house on their summer holidays then they could join in.

You can use your summer activities and experiences to help you with your writing and your creativity. I wrote here about writing adjacent activities and how they still contribute to your writing.

The Artist’s Date

The Artist Date idea comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. In the book, she describes the artist’s date as ‘mischief more than mastery’. So, the focus is on the experience and not on learning a new skill. You are filling up your creative well so that when you are writing you can write varied characters. 

She recommends doing it on your own but that is not always possible so some of my suggestions work well when you do them with children. Especially the ones like water guns are more fun with others. It is hard to stay serious when you are trying to win.

An example of this for me is baking. I do not like baking. I will eat any amount of cakes and cookies no problem. But I am not interested in the actual making of them. So, am I going to never have characters who bake? Plenty of other people like to bake and really enjoy it. If I include a character that bakes I am creating a potentially relatable character for those readers. To write about baking I need to experience what it is like to mix flour and eggs. For this experience, I try to include my children. They do enjoy the mixing and decorating parts. So, I get to see where the potential for enjoyment is through them.

Deliberately seek out the experience

For the artist’s date, you are being intentional about the experience. You are also practicing turning on your author’s eye. The successful Irish author Maeve Binchy would people watch when she was out and about. 

‘ If you look at people’s faces in airports, cafes, on trains, in the street you can see stories written there. Is that man afraid his wife is unfaithful? Does that woman wish she had the courage to start dating again? It’s written everywhere if you look.’

Bring your notebook and pen or phone with a notes app and write down your ideas as they appear. You could also describe your surroundings. I often do this when I have deliberately chosen a place with no people.

Turn your commute into an artist’s date

Stuck for time? You can use your commute. Describe what it feels like to be stuck in the car unable to write when you have a really good idea. Can you use your phone to dictate if there is no one else in the car with you? See if you can adequately describe the frustration levels in a way that conveys your feelings.

There is also a great chance to watch people when you are stuck in traffic. You could create a backstory for the person in the other car. Why did they buy that car? Where are they going or coming from? Why do they have people in the car with them? 

When you are stuck in the car it is also a great time to play with different genres. How would the traffic be relevant to an action sequence or detective noir? I have written here about how daydreaming is important for creativity.

The importance of play for accessing creativity and different parts of your brain in different ways

When children play they are developing important skills such as social and cognitive skills. Play for adults is more therapeutic and the benefits are more important for stress management. A lot of play requires physical movement which is always a great way to exercise. If you are laughing or talking while you are running around it can be a great aerobic workout.

Michael Forman wrote more here about the different play archetypes. It is interesting to see the different ways of playing broken down like that.

Authors that play

Alex Garland (The Beach) likes playing first-person shooters. Naomi Alderman (Disobedience) is a games writer for the Guardian as well as the author of several novels. Computer games require a different way of thinking and are another type of play.

George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire), Matt Groening (The Simpsons) and China Melville (The City and the City) all played, or still play, dungeons and dragons. A well-known tabletop role-playing game.

In our family, we regularly play with Rory’s Story Cubes. The cubes have images that you have to try and link together into a story. It is great to play with younger children because they are not constrained by the need to have a narrative structure. It is one of those games that younger children have a chance to do better than the grown-ups. I recommend these for unlocking your imagination and moving beyond what you feel a story ‘should’ be.

Summer Play Ideas to improve your writing

  • Bubbles – also an instant mood lifter
  • Water gun – set up targets if you have no one to play with
  • Pavement chalk
  • Large crayons that are hard to be exact with – often helps you shake off perfectionism. I end up playing with colour and shapes instead of trying to draw an image.
  • Watch a film that is totally different to anything you would normally watch – try the list of Oscar winners, or if you already know a genre you don’t particularly enjoy see if you can find something that you would watch in that genre.
  • Build a sandcastle or decorate a pile of sand with stones, sticks and shells. You can use stones to dig with if you don’t have a bucket and spade.
  • Virtual museum tours – The Salvador Dali museum is one of my personal favourites.
  • Google maps around cities – then use YouTube to hear the sounds of that city
  • Listen to someone else’s Spotify playlist 
  • Pick wild flowers – do you remember holding a buttercup under someone’s chin to see if it turned yellow which would then prove that they liked butter?
  • Stay still near some flowers and count honey bees or bumble bees
  • Look for daydreaming opportunities. I mentioned using your commute but if you are working from home can you spend time sitting outside or looking out of the window?

More reading on how to boost creativity

How to find your writing niche

How to increase creativity

What everyone needs to know about creativity

9 steps to boost your creativity and improve your novel

0 Comments on “Learn how play can help improve your writing