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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.

Why Writers Need Creative Play aka Process

blended perspectiveHappy Holidays! My gift to you is a three-part sneak peek at summaries of the Three Recommended Habits: Process, Product Time and Self-care. This information is usually available only to my students and coaching clients on a password-protected page.

You can find Success Stories from writers who applied the habits and the brain science behind why the habits serve writers so effectively in Chapters 3, 4 and 5 of Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance or in my Loft classes Discover Your Way Around the Writer’s Block or WTF Is Going On in My Brain When I Want to Write But Can’t.

Making collages is one of my favorite forms of Process

Making collages is one of my favorite forms of Process


Process is creative play just for the sake of play. Outcomes and results are not important; one of the benefits of Process is that you learn to surrender expectations.

Stream of consciousness freewriting or journaling (or doing Morning Pages as described by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way) is one way to do process. Other examples are:

  • making collages
  • doodling
  • taking photos
  • playing with Play-Doh or modeling clay
  • making a model
  • painting (oils, acrylics, watercolor or finger painting)
  • sketching
  • drawing a mandala
  • coloring in a coloring book
  • knitting
  • gardening
  • baking
  • fooling around with an instrument (but NOT rehearsing for a performance or recital).

Any kind of creative play that you do primarily because it’s fun, counts as Process. Any creative activity you do to achieve a specific outcome is not Process.

Of course, Process can result in some wonderful outcomes. What makes a creative activity Process is that you’re just as satisfied if the result is messy or incomplete or ugly or anything else.

If you knit because you enjoy the colors and textures of the yarn and the rhythm of working with your hands and you also happen to create scarves or mittens or whatever, that’s Process. If you knit to create products you’ll sell at a craft fair, that’s NOT Process; it’s Product Time, which we’ll discuss in the next post.

Many writers think they’re too busy to “waste time” with creative play. Let me assure you that just because you aren’t striving for a particular outcome, Process is not a waste of time. Making time for Process will give you:

  • ???????????????????????an antidote to perfectionism
  • a place to surrender expectations
  • hands-on experiences that engages your brain in ways that writing alone cannot
  • time to allow your right-hemisphere to take the lead
  • opportunities to refresh and restore your creative energy.

I recommend you do something for Process 15 to 30 minutes a day, 4 to 6 days a week. My standard Process activity is 15 minutes of coloring in a geometric design coloring book or working on a collage in the evenings, Monday thru Friday.

Find out more about the second habit, Product Time, in the next post.

Inquiry: What do you do for Process? What would you like to play around with?

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10 Comments on “Why Writers Need Creative Play aka Process”

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  2. Joel D Canfield December 30, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    I spent 15 minutes this morning truly listening to some of the music on my “most listened to” list. Surprisingly moving; relaxing and energizing at the same time.

    Chatting with Best Beloved about Process Time I realized how much I miss whittling. Not making stuff from wood, but the idle slicing away at a stick, watching the colors of the wood change, the layers, the shapes that come out and then disappear as I slice through a little more. Gonna get a good knife and include making a woody mess in my Process Time, along with coloring doodles and listening to music.


    • rosannebane December 30, 2013 at 8:39 am #

      Thanks Joel. “Surprisingly moving; relaxing and energizing at the same time,” is a wonderful, singular description of what most people experience when they make time for Process. It’s curious how much we Westerners resist taking time for this experience. Whittling and doodling are great wayw to do Process; I’ll add them to the list.


      • Joel D Canfield December 30, 2013 at 8:47 am #

        Does sitting and listening to music count? I’m curious about the difference between doing something (playing with clay or Legos, coloring, etc.) versus experiencing something, like just sitting and listening.

        What does brain science say?


        • rosannebane December 30, 2013 at 10:38 am #

          Yes, sitting and listening to music counts as Process! (But having music on in the background while you’re driving or doing something else doesn’t.)
          Research shows that the brain needs “down time” to integrate what we’ve just learned or experienced. Other research shows that when we manipulate things with our hands, we engage areas of the brain– associated with working memory, language and problem-solving– that are not engaged when we keyboard, which is why freewriting or journaling can give you more insights than keyboarding. Sometimes the best way around the “I can’t figure out how to phrase this” frustration is to do something else with your hands.
          I haven’t found research on this (yet), but I suspect that Process also increases activity in the right hemisphere, which allows to shift between the left-hemisphere focus and right-hemisphere focus required for creativity.


          • Joel D Canfield December 30, 2013 at 10:51 am #


            Is it best to mix it up? Free writing for fun one day, coloring the next, listening to music on another, playing mandolin chords just for fun on another? Or is the point served by picking something I could do every day with utter joy (listening to music) and sticking with it?


          • rosannebane December 30, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

            The guiding principle for Process is to do what brings you joy and energizes your creativity. Some people like the familiarity of doing the same thing most or all of the time; some people like to mix it up. I recommend you have a standard Process choice so that if you’re not sure what you want on any given day, you won’t spend more time figuring out what to do for Process than you actually spend doing Process.



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