Writing is work. Writing is hard. Writing is a business.
All this is true. But most people, especially those who aren’t writers, read these statements as: “Writing is boring. Writing is intimidating. Writing is for a select few who are smarter and more talented than me.”
I talk a lot about the discipline of writing, because I know a lot of writers who struggle with that. Hopefully, I do it in an encouraging way and not in a way that makes me sound like a bossy, egotistical kill-joy. Because I can totally pull off that image in real life. Not.
But, on the off chance that anyone got that impression, here’s the flip side, something that I’m convinced of as a writer: the importance of play. One of the main reasons why the hard work of writing as a business is intimidating to many people is that they haven’t found the right place to play. Here are some possibilities:
This is the training ground. You’re alone with yourself, occasionally watched over by someone who loves you, and you’re doing what you love just because you love it (and not because Mom is making a home video of you). There might be a little drool, a few stupid faces, and some simple babblings, but that’s fine. You’re growing.
Similar to: Personal blog, journal, rough drafts of anything, local or church newsletters, book reviews
Note: This is not something you “graduate” from, which is where the analogy breaks down. (Actually, all of these analogies break down in a lot of places if you think too hard about them. So don’t.) Everyone needs a playpen at all stages of their writing life. I still journal fragments of thoughts that sometimes get worked into an article or devotional, and sometimes aren’t really good for anything. I love testing out dramas and stories on a small audience before I send it anywhere for publication. Never turn your back on the playpen.
(Yes, as in the plastic McDonalds structure used to give parents some peace as they munch their fries. The company will probably sue me for copyright infringement.)
This is what I’d consider a more public venue, but still pretty safe. Small, manageable, fun…what’s not to love? Some of the time, only your parents and best friend will cheer your success (like they would your elegant dismount from the slide into the ball pit), but sometimes you’ll attract the attention of others. Just make sure it’s in a good way.
Similar To: Small-circulation magazines, devotionals, fiction competitions, local newspapers, a public blog
Now we’re in the realm of wide-open spaces. There aren’t as many rules here, and not as many protections…but there’s more variety, more options, more chances for glory. You’ll find yourself taking more risks and, sometimes, facing rejection. And that hurts for a while, like a scraped knee. But if you keep practicing, you’ll get better. The big kids who rule the playground won’t seem quite as intimidating. And you’ll find that you’re having fun.
Similar To: Larger-circulation magazines and newspapers, guest posts on other blogs, query letters to a publication you haven’t broken into, book proposals
You’d think that I’d take this a step further and have the next category be major league baseball field or something where you can really turn pro. But guess what?
There is no other category. Or, at least, I don’t think there should be.
In my opinion, writing should never stop being play. I absolutely am not endorsing a last-ditch attempt to go to Never-Neverland and become a Lost Boy, but I do refuse to grow out of certain aspects of childhood. I always want to be able to imagine, be thankful for little things, ask a simple “why” to things that may not have simple explanations, give others the benefit of the doubt, and laugh with real joy and not because I’m trying to project a certain image.
Those all make me a better writer and a better person, and so does a dedication to play – to a love of words and what they can do when you put them together, much like my newly-discovered love of Legos and the colorful plastic worlds you can create with them.
I want to explore every playground I can, trying new things and just having fun.