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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.

Seven Things I Learned Through Process Play: Guest Post by Catherine Brennan

Catherine Brennan shares Process Play insights

I met Catherine Brennan in one of my Loft classes. Her first reaction to Process (play for the sake of play) was a mix of anxiety and enthusiasm. As she played around with the idea of playing around to support her writing, she found creative play expanded her writing and her life as a writer in unexpected ways.

Incorporating Process into my writing sessions puts me into a calm, focused state and gives me designated time and space to experiment.

Even more, bathing in the flow of semi-conscious activity has revealed small, liberating discoveries and insights.

I’ve tried different forms of Process: looking through coffee table books of marvelous photographs, dancing, cooking, gardening and even arranging and throwing twigs I’ve found.

A childhood friend I’ve long admired for her creativity and un-self-conscious expression introduced me to the allure of colored pencils. I never thought of myself as a studio artist, so I needed to give myself permission to color, sketch and scribble. To my delight, I found myself  freely playing with previously off-limits, “grown-up” toys.

When the clerk at the art supply store showed me a colorless pencil for blending, I demurred, “I just noodle around.”

“That’s what we all do!”

Noodling around gave me an added bonus: I learned to scribble thoughts on the side of the page while I was I was coloring. I hope the principles I found in my notes will be a bonus in your Process play, too.

  1. Fancy, real-artist equipment isn’t necessary. I actually prefer the less expensive triangular pencils I happened on while shopping for something else.
  1. Drawing/scribbling can be a physical warm-up. Because my hands are becoming arthritic, I allow whatever hand and wrist movements are comfortable to drive the shapes that I draw, doodle and color.

  1. It’s a relief to stop fretting about outcomes. I need not get anxious when I’m free-form doodling. As Rosanne tells us, our Process activity needs to be without attachment to the outcome.
  1. Less focus, more compassion. I think I wrote this about which form of meditation is most conducive to my creativity, but I love how the phrase stands by itself. Take it as you will.

  1. Our bodies are of a piece and our experiences impact us on many levels. A few months after a major life change (not related to writing or creative play), I noticed a greater sense of physical autonomy and ease in daily life, as well as in drawing and coloring. My actions felt more free, and generated from within, rather than as a response to another’s need.
  1. I can make the rules, and I can break them. I developed a pattern in my coloring. When I noticed a “mistake,” I started to get anxious and then thought, “It’s my process. I can do what I want!” If you don’t know the tyranny of perfectionism and anxiety, you’ll have to trust me that this is a significant revelation.

  1. We don’t have to see the whole picture when we start. In both my Process and my Product Time, I can explore a little bit one day and return the next. Showing up every day I say I will and doing even the tiniest bit contributes to the whole.

It takes a special kind of courage for adults to surrender the dignity that comes from working for a purpose and return to play for the sake of play. It’s the courage to claim insights that can come only from exploring our most frightening vulnerabilities.

It’s the courage to create.

Catherine Brennan was born in New York and currently lives in Minnesota. She previously contributed to the Star Books database, writing about children’s books. Her experiences as a librarian have buoyed her interest in promoting the love of language and stories.


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