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Work as Play – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Jul 252007
 

After my 30-page week, I wrote 18 pages last week on my novel. Not as many, but I introduced a new character and had to develop her. I also had to remember something I read in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way:

Growth is an erratic movement: two steps forward, one step back. . . . You are capable of great things on Tuesday, but on Wednesday you may slide back. This is normal. Growth occurs in spurts. You will lie dormant sometimes. . . . Very often, a week of insights will be followed by a week of sluggishness.

At times like this Cameron says that we need to be kind to ourselves. She says one of the biggest mistakes artists of any stripe make is that we are too hard on ourselves. We are never going to get anywhere if all we are going to do is beat ourselves up. Our inner artist does not like that and hides. Well wouldn’t you, if someone beat up on you all the time? I am on week nine now and something she said really struck me:

Enthusisam (from the Greek “filled with God”) is an ongoing energy supply tapped nto the flow of life itself. Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. Far from being a brain-numbed soldier, our artist is actually our child within, our inner playmate. As with all play mates, it is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.

True our artist may rise at dawn to greet the typewriter or easel in the morning stillness but this event has more to do with a child’s love of secret adventure than with ironclad discipline. What other people may view as discipline is actually a play date that we make with our artist child: “I’ll meet you at 6:00 a.m. and we’ll goof around with a script, painting, sculpture . . .”

Our artist child can best be enticed to work by treating work as play. Paint is great gooey stuff. Sixty sharp pencils are fun. Many writers eschew a computer for the comforting, companionable clatter for a solid typewriter that trots along like a pony. In order to work well, many artists find that their work spaces are best dealt with a play spaces.

It hit me why this last year had been so hard for me: I was so hard on myself. I was treating my artist like a soldier. We have to do this! We have to do that! Good night, no wonder I had no creativity and had absolutely no idea what to write. It’s now totally changing as I look at my writing as something I can play with and have fun with. I can say to my inner artist: Hey you want to see what Kathryn is up to today? You want to see what kind of trouble she gets into? And my inner artist perks up. She’s interested in that, instead of me saying, “We have to do this and that”, and “This what it means to be a professional writer” like some self-destructive drill sergeant.

It is so foreign from what the world the tells us: we have to be tough on ourselves to get ahead and get what we want. We have to have our nose to the grindstone and go, go, go. There must be production; there must be results. But creativity does not work that way. Creativity needs to be nurtured and given space. The inner artist needs a play area not a 10 mile hike. I’ve noticed as I have started being nicer to myself (and my inner artist) that more ideas are coming. That writing is easier. That it’s okay if I’m not that productive one day because there’s tomorrow, and who knows what me and my inner artist will find to get into and play with tomorrow?

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