Monday Motivation: The serious business of being playful
Writing is a serious business, wouldn’t you say? It requires that you shed your defences and dig down deep to mine seams of memory and emotion. It requires that you attempt the virtually impossible feat of imagining yourself into the shoes – and the veins and the sinews – of other characters whose views you might despise, and yet to whose creation you have to devote loving and meticulous care.
You have to devise plots of great ingenuity that will tax not just your imaginations, but your research abilities and your judgement. You are required to create entire worlds, and, in some cases, entire universes which have to be internally consistent and believable, no matter how outlandish.
You’re constantly aware of the stakes involved. A poorly conceived story, two dimensional characters, lack of drama, too much drama, will draw down upon you the opprobrium of your critics. Your publisher, if you were lucky enough to attract one in the first place, will report depressing sales. Your friends will avoid your eye.
And worst of all, in your heart of hearts, you’ll suffer the harsh judgement of your own worst critic – that nay-sayer who warned you from the start that your faith in your writing abilities was misplaced.
Is that serious enough for you?
These were some of the ideas that the writers taking part in our Croatian retreat explored one sunny day last week.
Our subject, however, wasn’t the seriousness of the writing project – but the light-heartedness with which it needs to be approached. What unlocks the imagination is not contemplation of the serious themes of literature – but a deliberate playfulness.
One of the most productive of all questions that a writer can ask herself is: What if…?
What if my character dies and is resurrected time after time after time?
What if my character is challenged to circumnavigate the world in eighty days?
What if my character misses her morning commuter train by seconds, and returns home unexpectedly to discover her boyfriend in flagrante with her best friend?
What if…? is a variant of Let’s make believe…
Play means experimenting without worrying about the consequences – because there are none. Play means donning masks and flexing muscles that you haven’t tried before. Just for the heck of it. Play means adopting a lightness of approach that is denied the writer intent on penning the next big novel of the 21st century.
Play means spewing out ideas that are usually outrageous and ridiculous, but that trigger thoughts that lead to…
Life after life
Around the world in 80 days
And, of course, play is fun, fun is energising, and energy fuels creativity.