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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

The P-word

By Rosanne Bane

I’m reading Play by Stuart Brown, MD. I picked up the book mainly because of its subtitle: How It [Play] Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul.

Brain, imagination and soul are three words that will grab my attention every time.

As I’m reading, I’ve realized that what I’ve been calling Process for over 10 years really could be called creative play or just play. So why did I coin the term “Process” instead of simply calling it “Creative Play”? In part, because I wanted to contrast creating for its own sake (Process) with creating with a specific goal in mind (Product). But I can also see that I wanted to avoid the stigma of “play.”

I’m in good company. Brown discusses Marian Diamond, a neuroscientist whose work showed that rats raised in “enriched” environments were smarter, had bigger and more complex brains and more highly-developed cortexes. What’s an “enriched” environment for a lab rat? One that had a variety of toys and other rats to play with. So why didn’t the research simply say “play” instead of “enriched?”

Diamond admits, “Back in the early 1960s, women had to struggle to be taken seriously as scientists. I was already seen as this silly woman who watched rats play, so I did avoid the words ‘toy’ and ‘play.’”

What a strange prejudice we have against play.

Despite what our Puritan forerunners asserted, play is not sinful. It is not a waste of time that could be better spent doing something “productive.” It is not just an amusing diversion or a reward for hard work.

Play is the natural way to learn, to practice, to rehearse without penalties. Play expands the imagination. Play is essential for creativity.

The brain thrives on play. Play stimulates BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that stimulates nerve growth.  Play creates new neural connections and may be a key factor in keeping the aged-related cognitive losses to a minimum.

If you’ve been feeling a little stale or completely stymied with your writing lately, play is the prescription. On the other hand, if your writing is going well and you want to keep your momentum, play is your insurance. The more you play, the better your work will be.

So even if you don’t use the P-word, how do you play as a writer? What do you do for creative fun that keeps you fresh and inspired? What thrills and pleasures from your childhood, adolescence and early adulthood could you revive?

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7 Comments on “The P-word”

  1. Valerie April 2, 2010 at 3:01 am #

    Hi Rosanne,

    What a great reminder on the importance of giving you mind room to play.

    I took your Writing Habit Class in the summer of 08 and am now in India working on a research project.

    I’m definitely prone to taking things too seriously, and it’s great to be reminded that this is seldom the best way to produce quality creative work. In fact, when I’m too serious I just end up getting in my own way.

    Thanks again for the reminder.



    • rosannebane April 2, 2010 at 11:36 am #

      Hi Valerie,
      It’s great to hear from you — India what a great place to do a research project and what a great place to play! Here’s a challenge if you want one: do ten fun things that you could only do in India before you leave the country.



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