“For me, finishing a novel requires a kind of dogged persistence. It’s a long process requiring a suite of hard-won skills. But when I approach a book with a sort of grit-your-teeth determination, I can crush all the life out of it. My best writing comes when I lighten up and approach it in a spirit of play. For me, writing a novel is a delicate balancing act of craft, persistence, passion, and joy.”
What wise words from Susan Fletcher, author of Falcon in the Glass and many other fine novels. They are part of an interview on The Enchanted Inkpot, which you might want to check out more fully. She has lots more to say that’s wise and helpful and just wonderfully human.
I often hear from folks who say about this blog, “What you said was exactly what I needed to hear today,” and what Susan says here is exactly what I needed to hear today, too.
I’m good at the grit-your-teeth determination part of this writing business Susan speaks of, not always so adept at play. I do take satisfaction, a lot of it, in this good work I do. And I’m drawn to my writing with real fervor. But sometimes—well, to be honest, more often than sometimes—I forget to play.
Every other week, I take part in an Interplay group, a gathering of artists of various genres who spend two-and-a-half hours dancing and telling stories, all of it free form. The dance is whatever happens to your body in response to the music and the moment. The stories usually take off from the last word handed to you by the story of the person next to you, so there is no opportunity to preplan. You just pick up your word and step off into space, your arms stretched to catch whatever life-wind is blowing.
For someone for whom stories are a way of making a living, something that must be planned and prepared and aimed at a particular publishing slot, it is an exercise in letting go, especially letting go of judgment . . . of myself and others. Whatever comes tumbling out of my mouth is fine. It’s more than fine. It’s a gift to myself and to the group.
We begin each session sitting in a circle and checking in, responding to two questions: “What feels good in your body today?” and “What are you playing with?”
The “What feels good in your body” question is an interesting one. We are a group of mostly beyond-middle-age women, and I have been amused to realize how often we use our mention of what feels good—“my left big toe”—as a way to comment on what doesn’t feel good, a much more interesting topic. (On hot flashes, our leader, an ordained minister who had hot flashes for fifteen years, said, “The way women’s bodies are designed is my absolute proof that God is male.”)
But the first time I encountered the question, “What are you playing with?” I was thrown. Playing? I’m supposed to be playing?
I’ve been doing Interplay for a couple of years now, and I no longer have to go scrambling through my mind to come up with some play to report. And that’s less because I am playing more—though I may be, at least a bit—and more because I’m redefining my life to recognize more of what I do as play.
Planning, shopping for, preparing and eating a meal can be the deepest kind of play for me. Certainly walking our two dogs, paddling around the edge of a small lake in my kayak, taking my youngest grandson to The Children’s Theatre, going clothes shopping with my fifteen-year-old granddaughter, snuggling with my partner at home in front of a movie . . . all those things are blessing and play.
And this novel I have in front of me, the one I started over after nearly 200 pages, the one where I can’t quite get the beginning to work . . . can that be play, too?
Step one, ungrit my teeth.
Step two, take a deep breath.
Maybe I’ll write another blog. It’s so much easier to give advice than to take it.
But tomorrow, I promise myself, I’ll play with the novel.