The Radical Act of Play

Wonderbook-coverI'm reading two books about writing at the moment, and together they are making my head explode. In a good way.  It's exploding with ideas.

The first one is called Wonderbook, and it is by Jeff Vandermeer.  I'm only at the very beginning of this baby, having just gotten hold of it last week.  This book is like no other writing book you've ever seen, I guarantee it.  Wonderbook is a lavishly illustrated feast of information, essays, and tips for the writer in all stages of writing a novel.   Just go check out the site to see what I mean. It's an amazing book in conception and finished product.

In the opening section, on inspiration, Vandermeer writes about play and how we sometimes (more like often) sneer at it, as if it is beneath us, as if play, at its heart, is not the very essence of creativity.  To wit:

"Modern ideals of functionality and the trend toward seamless design in our technology have taken the very human striving for perfection and given us the illusion of having attained it (which, ironically, seems very dehumanizing).  In this environment, some writers second-guess their instincts and devalue the sense of play that infuses creative endeavors: "This antique Tiffany lamp must provide light right now, even before I screw in the lightbulb and plug it in, or it's worthless."

Vandermeer goes on to point out that the idea of play thus becomes "immature and frivolous" and we come to think that "all creative processes should be efficient, timely, linear, organized and easily summarized."

I think this also has to do with our emphasis on time, or more to the point, the lack thereof. Taking time to play and be creative seems like at time-waster when it doesn't immediately produce a finished piece.  This attitude can lead to a reluctance to use prompts or writing exercises, or to do anything that isn't directly related to our WIP.

Which leads me to the second book I'm reading, The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way From Inspiration to Publication, by Dan Millman and Sierra Prasada.  (Please note, the publisher, New World Library, graciously provided me with a copy of the book for review. I'll be sharing more about it in a future post.)  The authors delineate five stages that the writer goes through Dream, Draft, Develop, Refine, Share.  Right now I'm reading about the first stage, Dream, in which, "a sticky idea calls you on a quest, and you set out to slay your own dragons."
Creative-compass

The authors talk about starting a conversation with yourself, and then take it further to a technique they call Dreaming in Dialogue.  (Which I'm not sure is the best name, because whenever I see the word dialogue in a writing book I presume it's talking about the act of writing about conversation between characters.)  But, I love, love, love the technique itself and I think it is a fun writing exercise–worthy of taking time to play with.

The idea is to initiate a conversation with your alter ego, as they call it.  So, on the page, you actually have a back and forth about your plot (or whatever).  So (I made all the following up):

Writer: And then the angel landed right in front of her and she got scared so she ran away.

Alter Ego: Why did she get scared?

Writer: Because angels are scary, with their big wings and the whooshing noise they make as they fly.

Alter Ego: They make a whooshing noise as they fly?

Writer: Yes, and they also sing loudly.

I can see how this technique would be useful in furthering a writer's knowledge of the story he's trying to get on paper.  To use it a slightly different way, the authors mention that Harold Robbins, he of the glorious potboiler novels, started each day out with a conversation with his typewriter, who spoke to him as a female.  So you can use this technique with yourself, an imaginary person, or an inanimate object.

I know exactly who I'm going to try it out with: a character who resides within in named Passionate Creator.  She's the one responsible for all the writing I churn out.  She lolls about on a tufted chaise lounge, eating chocolate and sipping wine, and writes and writes and writes.  She can't be bothered with anything having to do beyond actually getting words on the page (that would be the job of Layla, Business Lady, who Passionate Creator ordered from a catalog).  But man, oh man, is she good at getting the writing done!  So we're going to have us a conversation about where the novel is going, she and I.

(I wrote about play a little bit a couple years ago, in this post. )

What books have inspired you lately?  What playful techniques have you used to engage your creativity?

 

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6 Comments on "The Radical Act of Play"

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Don
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10/22/2013 07:35

Damn, Charlotte…. you got my curiosity peeked with these two books, now I’ll have to check em out, which probably means I’ll be spending more money that is so hard for me to come by, but thanks anyway!

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
10/22/2013 10:42

I think that comment is akin to damning with faint praise.  I truly am sorry for telling you about these books!  And I think they are both very helpful to writers. Let me know if you pick either or both of them up.

Don
Guest
10/22/2013 11:29

Nah, I didn’t mean to damn with faint praise, but I’m a pensioner and I just hate spending money *(since I have so little of the precious stuff), but these look too good to pass up so, eventually, I’ll most likely buy em both and that goes especially for the Wonderbook.

Zan Marie
Guest
10/22/2013 13:18

Yowsa! Wonderbook looks marvelous! I just wonder if I’ll read it any better than the other writing books I have on the shelf. 😉

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
10/22/2013 14:06

The mark of a good writing book, to me, is when I set it aside to go write because it has inspired me!  Wonderbook is so full of riches, I'm hoping I'll actually finish it!

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
10/22/2013 14:09

I really love that phrase–damn with faint praise–so I didn't mean it badly.  I know what you mean about spending the money, though–it is easy to go overboard on books and forget that you actually have to find time to read them!

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