JOHN TRUBY, IN HIS BOOK The Anatomy of Story, defines a story in this way: “A speaker tells a listener what someone did to get what he wanted and why.” But I what I really love is what Truby writes just after that: “The storyteller is first and foremost someone who plays.”
I love that.
Playing, even for adults, is important. According to this Washington Post article, play is an important de-stressor, and can even attract potential mates.
And if you don’t play, you’re more liable to feel cranky, rigid, or like you are stuck in a rut. According to Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, in order to benefit most from the benefits of play, we need to incorporate it into our everyday lives.
Or our everyday writing.
Let’s face it: writing is playing at the very beginning. Dreaming up characters and what they do, and what life does to them, and the consequences thereof, and how they are changed afterward—it’s exactly like telling yourself a story when you were a kid. I used to sit on the side of my backyard sandbox, not digging in the sand but imaging worlds and characters. Telling myself a story that I made up as I went along. If a friend came over at a crucial point in my story, I made them wait until the imagined crisis was resolved. Only then would I hop on my bicycle and ride around the neighborhood with them.
But writing down your story is a different beast. Sometimes, just getting words on the page (or computer screen) can begin to take the fun out of it. So mix it up a little. In the morning, before you open that file with your work-in-progress, take ten minutes to write whatever your heart desires or where your whacky imagination takes you. Give yourself and your characters free rein, for just a little while.
I often use a writing prompt to help get me started in the morning, even when I’m knee-deep in revisions. If nothing else, a writing prompt helps me move into the writing zone—there’s no pressure; I may not use it; it’s just for fun. I can forget the breakfast dishes I ought to do and the phone call I ought to make (there are so many good reasons not to sit down to write). No need to check email first. No need to look at the headlines.
It’s like a warm-up exercise for your state of mind.
If you are writing a novel, like I am, your job is to find characters and a story that will engage you, the writer, for a very long time —for as long as it takes to write your book. A sense of play is what keeps our work and our characters fresh.
Why not try it? Play for ten minutes. Find a prompt (I put one up every day on twitter, search for #10minprompt), and write for ten minutes without stopping.
After that, you can get back to work.
Writing Prompt: I could see him through the window, and I wondered …