As a writer progresses in his craft, he may sometimes wonder what he might expect the path to look like. In this four-part series, Charity Singleton Craig envisions a possible progression of a writing life through the lens of a snowboarder. In today’s installment, she considers the role of play.
During the most recent Winter Olympics, my husband and I were watching the men’s halfpipe competition on the old television in our bedroom, far away from the snow-packed half cylinder in Sochi, Russia. Reclining lazily in our flannel sheets, we felt distanced from the jumps and acrobatics of these extreme athletes who ride their small boards up and down and over and through the pipe.
“How do they start?” I asked my husband, wondering how a person goes from couch-potato spectator, watching snowboarders ride the halfpipe on an outdated TV, to actually making the jumps, twists, and flips in the icy track.
“They probably started practicing over mats,” my husband offered. I also pictured helmets, padded suits, and wire cables during those first few jumps. And certainly they didn’t start with 23-foot-deep, icy pipes.
When I clicked off the television and rolled over to sleep, I was still thinking of these uber-skilled athletes, how one day they were watching others do this amazing thing, and then, they decided to start doing it themselves. From the beginning.
Where Our Writing Life Begins
This is where the writing life begins for most of us, too. We don’t start out crafting our own complex sentences and well-structured paragraphs. In the beginning, we don’t write at all. First, we read, or listen to others read. The stories we hear entertain us, encourage us, even thrill us. We don’t first come to words because we want a lifetime of work; we come because other writers made them seem enjoyable. And we want to play, too.
Apparently that’s how gold medalist Shaun White first entered the world of professional snowboarding. He was not even five years old when he followed his brother, Jesse, to a nearby YMCA where he regularly skateboarded with friends. I can imagine the young Shaun thinking, That looks fun! According to Bio magazine, by age six, he added snowboarding to his repertoire.
I was about the same age when I entered the world of words. My mom had read to my brother and me for years. I began reading for myself at age four. My brother was four years older and often brought home school writing projects. When I was six, his fifth-grade teacher assigned a written report about one of the 50 states, his choice. Seemed fun to me, so I decided to try one for myself. I picked Kansas. The teacher graciously read my report, in addition to my brothers’ and the other students’ in her class. I got an A+.
Writing was a playground for me for years. Long before my ambition for a career in publishing, I used words as toys, crafting stories and poems and songs. I jotted them down on scrap paper for myself. I meticulously penned them on construction paper as gifts for others. Many of them were thrown away with no thought of the future. I was just playing.
Make the Most of It
Whether you are still in this early stage of your writing career, or have moved far beyond it, playing with words can help you make progress in your writing life. Sometimes when I am working under deadline, word work gets too serious. I forget why I am doing it. Playing helps me remember. Other times, I am stuck. The words won’t come. Stepping away from an assignment and playing in other ways—going for a walk, painting a picture, playing a game of tennis, enjoying a cup of tea on the porch swing—provides the space I need.
I hope I never stop playing with words. But I also know that if I want to grow as a writer, I can’t play all the time. Allowing the joy that develops through play to propel me toward a more serious commitment to the craft becomes an important next step in the progression of my writing life.