Why Writers Need to Play

Play is the highest form of research.After two years of hard study for my MA in Professional Writing, I was looking forward to getting back to my own novel and put all my new-found knowledge to use, but when I sat down I just felt—bleurgh.

I’m burned out, I thought. I need to take a break and let my creative well refill. But two years of writing to strict deadlines, plus writing contextual essays about my writing, had got me into a solid, daily writing routine, and I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

But why did it even feel like a fight? It never used to. I tackled my WIP as I would any other assigned piece of writing. After all, that hard work got me a Distinction. I took my novel apart, ran it through several structure models, put it back together, and hated every second.

I’d lost the joy of writing.

After four months of this, I threw in the towel and put my WIP aside, but the daily writing routine still burned inside me and the very next day I’d picked up an unfinished novel, the third in The Orcadian Novel series, and fell in love with the characters all over again. I went back to the first novel, then the second, jotting down unanswered questions and dreaming up the most exciting answers.

I shelved any idea of a finished novel and started to play. The result? I now have a shedload of great ideas to work on that I’m excited to flesh out on paper.

When I wrote the first novel in the series, Body of Water, all I did was play. I didn’t really understand that much about structure. I felt my way through it. I kept what made me excited and dumped what didn’t. I put in characters I wanted to meet in real life, even the rotten ones. (Especially the rotten ones.)

As an actor, I once took part in an entirely improvised play, and it was the most rewarding gig I ever had – it didn’t feel like work at all. We made up the stories and the dialogue. No one used a script because there wasn’t one. If we forgot a line it was because it probably wasn’t worth remembering.

Imaginative play lets your imagination run wild. Colouring books are all the rage for a reason, but I’d encourage you to rip out a page, glue it to a bigger one and extend the drawing.

You can tell stories through all sorts of mediums: painting; drawing; crafting. It all fosters your imagination.

Writing a novel takes a lot of effort over an extended period of time. Adding play back into your writing life makes your perseverance fun and perseverance leads to mastery.

Play doesn’t make you a kid, but most kids tell wildly entertaining stories, and I’ve never been disappointed listening to a single one of them even if they lacked narrative flow. Reignite your inner child!

Go on. Go and have a great, big, beautiful adventure in your head and then write it down.

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Author: Stuart Wakefield

I want to live in a world where toys are free, washing machines never break down, and everybody gets a happy ending. As an author, I’ve written a Kindle best seller, been nominated for the Polari First Book Prize and People’s Book Prize, and experienced the all-consuming fear of reading my work at London’s Southbank Centre. When I’m not writing, you can find me working with other authors as a Developmental Editor.

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