One bright spot in a difficult few weeks is the launch tonight in Sydney and then on Tuesday in Melbourne of the Emerging Writers’ Festival Reader. In it is my first ever book-published piece titled Play is the Wrong Word, which takes a look at the importance of play as part of the creative process. Here’s an excerpt, but please buy the full book to support emerging writers & future editions.
To be a writer, you need to take your craft seriously. But in the process, argues Paul Callaghan, we can lose our appreciation for play, and its role not only in writing, but life in general.
Play is the Wrong Word
Every piece of writing – in fact every act of creation – is an exploration, a mapping of elusive contours of thought, a process of divination and excavation. At the other end, every experience of a piece of writing – or every creative work – is the same: a scrabble through uncharted caves, a handheld guide through an unknown city, a slow resonant unveiling of how things are and how they came to be.
But mention the word play in association with either of these processes and the arguments come at you hard and fast. We are serious writers and thinkers, they say, explorers of uncharted territory. We stalk the wilderness and return with wisdom, heroes of our own creative journey. We are adults struggling against the dark, and we have no time for such trivial things.
Perhaps play is the wrong word then? Or perhaps it’s something that needs reclaiming through reflection and re-examination of how creativity works.
For writers, the creative process begins with the blank page, and the question of how do I fill it? To this, everyone has their own answer. Maybe you do morning pages, maybe you write for ten minutes about the plant on your desk, maybe you fill a page with the contents of a dream or a stream of consciousness description. Maybe you try to write something funny or sad or verbose or sterile. Maybe something deadly serious. And sometimes you succeed and sometimes you fail, but most days, you write with the hope of a story, a snippet, a something.
This, we tell ourselves, is unblocking our creative selves and finding a way towards the sliver of a plot or the shade of a character, anything to carry us over that threshold from nothing to something. It is categorically not playing. It is, again, serious business.
Let’s use more serious language then. Let’s look at creativity through the lens of experimentation, identity adoption, and transfer – elements deeply associated with how we play.