The Importance of Play to Your Creativity

dscn3989Toward the end of October, I was all set to write a post about how much fun I’d been having lately. I was anticipating an upcoming release, working on final edits for another, and completing a WIP on a deadline, and yet I’d taken a couple of Saturday afternoons off to play rather than work on these things. I had a charming post in mind about the benefits of play to your creativity.

And then the November elections happened. I won’t sugar-coat it. I was devastated by the results. The implications of the impact of the new administration are staggering on so many levels: personally, financially, emotionally, environmentally… I could go on. I struggled to finish my projects. I began stress eating–and have probably gained ten pounds, I’m afraid to look at the scale. I stopped coloring my hair (and at the moment resemble a skunk with the two inch wide streak of gray running down the middle of my scalp). I’m not  sleeping, and when I do manage to catch a few hours of sleep, I have nightmares.

Writing a cheerful post about the benefits of play to your personal creativity seemed not only frivolous, but pointless as well. Instead of writing about the importance of having fun to energize the writing process, I wrote about why we need our storytellers more than ever. Instead of sharing pictures of me playing with action figures or planning my next cosplay, I wrote about living with fear. Recently, I read a post about how we as creators should keep our mouths shut about politics unless we were political writers. That’s fine if you wish to do that. If you’re concerned about losing readers because of sharing your beliefs. I’ve been turned off by artists who have revealed their true selves to social media, so I get it. But let me say for the record if you don’t buy my works because you revile the things I believe in, well, I doubt seriously you would have enjoyed them anyway.

And let me tell you this: we ALL have a stake in the future here. Regardless of our sexual orientation, our gender, our economic status, our religious beliefs, our age, our ethnicity, our belief in science and education, our status as US citizens… because we ALL live on this planet, and the upcoming administration will put all of that at risk. Not just the part where the cishet white males in the 1% tax bracket live. And given the rampant lying and corrupt inaccuracies coming from the upcoming administration, there needs to be visible and vocal protest every day, otherwise they will continue steamrolling over the rights of everyone.

But that brings me back to the importance of play. Yes, it took me a while to see that. There are two points I want to make here. The first, is that while we all know to be successful as creators, we must be disciplined about working at our craft every day, there are reasons why we still need to read and watch other works, and yes–play.

I have a very good friend who, because we live on different sides of the country, we only get to meet up once a year. However we email each other. We send each other cards and gifts (okay, most of the sending is on her side because she’s awesome like that). And we pose pictures of our action figures in scenes like storyboards and send them to each other.

steve-respondsTwo weeks before the election, I spent 3 or 4 hours posing action figures with props against different backdrops in my yard. I wasn’t conscious of the time. I didn’t stop what I was doing and check my social media platforms every few minutes. I was engrossed and having fun, playing with dolls outside on a gorgeous autumn afternoon. I can’t tell you when the last time I’d had so much fun by myself had occurred. Probably the previous winter, when I spent hours in the snow posing action figures in an epic battle between the Abominable Snowman, Queen Elsa, and the Wraith.

The following weekend, I sorted through my costumes, trying them on and determining which needed more work before the next cosplay event. For someone who goes to conventions once or twice a year at best, I have a lot of costumes. And the afternoon I spent dressing up, attempting to master Peggy Carter’s hair and makeup, was another delightful day spent.

agent-carter-red-dress-and-shoesHere’s the funny thing. I ‘should’ have been writing. I have a limited amount of writing time each week, and wasting it playing with dolls or dress-up should have made me cringe. But it didn’t. Those weekends stand out as some of the happiest, most relaxing in memory–that didn’t take place on vacation, that is.

Even more astounding, by letting my mind play all afternoon, I woke up the next morning with the solutions to sticky plot points ironed out, as well as on fire to jot down some new ideas for different stories. Creativity doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It needs fuel and fertilizer. It needs oxygen and freedom to grow. And the best part: it’s self-perpetuating. The more you play, the more creative you become.

Which brings me to the second point: as I’ve said before, we need our storytellers more than ever. Chuck Wendig has written some fantastic posts about how to create art and make cool stuff in a time of trouble, as well as the need for hope. That is true for all of us as creators, but I say this as well: it’s true for all us period. We need our heroes. We need to believe that good will win in the end. We need the courage that comes from emulating our heroes and the relief from fear that comes from a few hours of play, be that coloring, or making crafts, or dressing as your favorite kick-ass character, or reading, or writing, or whatever. When you realize that J.K. Rowling’s Dementors are a metaphor for depression, or that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was heavily influenced by his experiences in WWI, then you realize that we’re all political animals in the end–and we all need hope.

 

 

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