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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 Vital Work of Play


Back when I first started this series on Self-Care, you might wondered why “creative play” was in the list of things writers need to do for Self-Care when I’ve always promoted play as Process.

The great thing about Play is that it can be Process or Self-Care or even Product Time. When play is primarily imaginative and creative, I call it Process. When it’s playing around with words, ideas or characters, I call it Product Time. When play is primarily physical (running agility with Blue or geocaching and hiking for example) or friendly competition that’s really about relationships and connecting with friends and family, I call it Self-Care.

Writers need all three kinds of play, so when in doubt about what direction to take next or when you’re feeling resistant or blocked, play with something. You’ve got a 3 in 3 chance the play will do something good for you.

To remind you why play is so important, here’s a Top Ten list I posted awhile back.

1.  Play is fun! We are designed to play; that’s why it’s fun, so we naturally want to engage in it. This should be reason enough. But a lot of us have been scarred (and scared) by the Puritan stigma against play and the false belief that real adults don’t do such frivolous things. So here are nine more reasons to play.

2. Play is creative. We make new associations and connections, we imagine alternatives, we play with novelty, we see metaphors and solutions.

3. Play is essential for brain development and appears to be essential to maintaining a healthy brain.

4. Play keeps you young. A variety of different forms of both physical and mental play keep the brain and the rest of the body flexible and strong. People who play are not only less likely to develop dementia; they’re less likely to have heart disease.

5. Play prepares us to adapt to “a world continuously presenting unique challenges and ambiguity,” according to biologist and expert on animal play Bob Fagen (quoted in Play by Stuart Brown). Play is our opportunity to rehearse new behaviors in low-risk situations.

6. Play gives our big brains something to do. In fact, play gives us a big brain. Species with larger brains relative to their body size are more playful than species with smaller brains relative to their body size.

7. Play makes you smarter. Play, especially active play, stimulates BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which supports the growth of new neurons, encourages existing neurons to make new connections, and fights the effects of stress.

8. Play helps us figure out how to navigate our bodies through the physical world and how to navigate our psyches through the emotional and social world. We learn all kinds of important social skills in play: how to negotiate, argue constructively, act collaboratively, challenge ourselves to excel without trampling others and how to lose gracefully and persevere.

9, Play is a sign that we are okay. Stuart Brown writes “When we are in peril, play will disappear. But studies show that if they are well fed, safe and rested, all mammals will play spontaneously.”

10. Play keeps entropy at bay. As long as we play, we receive all the benefits of play. But when we stop playing, we stop developing, stop healing and recreating our bodies and brains, stop engaging with others, stop truly enjoying life.

So what are you waiting for? Go out and play.

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  1. Keeping Your Writer’s Brain at Creative Optimum | The Bane of Your Resistance - March 15, 2013

    […] The Vital Work of Play […]


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