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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.

What a Surfing Pig Can Teach Writers

surfing-pigI promise to connect the surfing pig with writing resistance via the intriguing tangents I’m about to lead you through.

When I was a kid, I hated going to bed. I especially hated going to bed in the summer when it was still light outside. I was the youngest kid, so I was supposed to go to bed first. My brother was two years older than me and took it as a personal affront and an injustice of Biblical proportions if I wasn’t in bed at least a half hour before he was.

I knew stuff happened after I went to bed, stuff I didn’t want to miss out on. I devised ingenious ways to sneak out of bed and watch what was going on.

I still resist going to bed. I always think “Just one more page, just one more chapter…”

When I read this in John Medina’s Brain Rules:

“Sleep makes us exquisitely vulnerable to predators. Indeed, deliberately going off to dreamland unprotected in the middle of a bunch of hostile hunters (such as leopards, our evolutionary roommates in eastern Africa) seems like a behavior dreamed up by our worst enemies.” (p. 153),

I knew it! sleep danger writers blockI knew there was something primal behind my resistance to sleep. The thing I could be missing could be essential to my survival.

Medina goes on to say “There must be something terribly important we need to accomplish during sleep if we are willing to take such risks in order to get it.” (p. 153)

While you’re pondering that, take a look at this video of polar bears and dogs playing.

Cue Kama, the surfing pig.

In Play, Stuart Brown lists species after species that play – dogs, cats, bears, wolves, rats, monkeys, ravens, hippos, bison, deer, even octopi – then asks the question “Why?”

“Animals don’t have much leeway for wasteful behaviors. Most live in demanding environments in which they have to compete to find food, compete with other species, and compete to mate successfully. Why would they waste time and energy in nonproductive activity like play? Sometimes play is even dangerous. Mountain goats bound playfully along rock faces thousands of feet high, and sometimes they fall. As a mountain goat mother might say ‘It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.’” (p. 30-31)

Brown does provide a list of reasons why animals play. And Medina and other experts can cite benefits of sleep without a problem. (I’ve previously posted reasons for writers to play and reasons writers need sleep.)

We spend a third of our lives asleep. It’s hard to say how much time we spend playing, but any time spent needlessly exposing ourselves to danger seems too much from the evolutionary standpoint. Certainly there must be ways to get the benefits of sleep and play without exposing ourselves to such risk.

From a strictly evolutionary perspective, sleep and play are frivolous. Which makes me think that there must be more to life than mere survival.

So here’s that writing-related point I promised: There are times when writing feels like an overwhelming risk; that’s when your limbic system takes over. Your limbic system cares only about survival. But you are willing to risk your life sleeping and playing because there is more to life than work and survival.

If Kama the pig can joyfully get on a surfboard, surely you can find the courage to write for the sake of the something more that writing brings to your life. After all, no one ever wiped out, fell off a mountain or got killed by leopards while writing.

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2 Comments on “What a Surfing Pig Can Teach Writers”

  1. Ed Suominen August 19, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

    I had this page open just as I peered over my iPad and told my nine-year old yet again that it’s time for him to go to sleep. I read your passage aloud to him about how much you hated going to bed, and he laughed.

    Now Geronimo Stilton has been put away and the lights are out.


    • rosannebane August 21, 2014 at 9:28 am #

      Thanks Ed. I’m always delighted to make someone laugh.


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