In a recent podcast, I encouraged play as a way to energize a writer's work, and a week ago I zeroed in on the need to take your play history to identify what brought you joy in childhood, in hopes of incorporating it into your life today.
I shared with you about the care and keeping of crickets, but the more I worked on my play history, the more I remembered summers in my childhood, when I read Nancy Drew mysteries, played Barbies with my friend down the road, and pedaled my bike to Edward's Cash & Carry to buy a bottle of grape Faygo and some Dubble Bubble. In winter, I'd play Intellivision games, do word searches, read comic books, and watch re-runs of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan's Island, and The Brady Bunch.
A few years later, I started college. It was hard. Much harder than high school. Afraid I might lose my generous academic scholarship, I focused on studies to keep up my GPA. No way would I have time to watch afternoon reruns. On weekends I might go on a road trip with friends, and I joined a college group that met Tuesday evening meetings, but during the day I was in class or preparing for class.
One afternoon in my junior year, a roommate suggested we watch a movie.
"But...it's the middle of the day. In the middle of the week."
"Live a little, Annie!"
I looked at the TV set and the VHS player. I doubt I would have skipped a class, but as an English major I had lengthy, often challenging, reading assignments followed by response papers. The mere thought of setting it all aside felt irresponsible, but that one afternoon, I did it. I settled onto the couch and tuned out schoolwork for a couple of hours. I don't even remember the movie, but I do remember it was the first time I thought about finding balance between work and play throughout the week.
Years later, as a young mom, I gave my kids lots of time for free play with toys and games, and to make sure they enjoyed fresh, new experiences, I also planned play. I'd arrange outings to the children's museum, the zoo, the park, and the library so my kids would have intentional opportunities to play. In summer I'd pass around popsicles and set up the sprinkler for them to run through. In winter I'd zip up their snowsuits so they could stomp through the drifts to build forts and snowmen.
Work Doesn't Work Without Play
Time flies. Those sprinkler summers and snowsuit winters are long gone: Three of my kids are young adults and the youngest is a teen. Play looks different than it used to. As I build my writing life and coaching business, the proposition of watching a movie in the middle of the day feels as irresponsible as it did in college—I should be doing something more productive than settling onto the couch for two hours. But that resistance suggests I need to build in something more playful than a coffee break. I can tell I need the sense of flow and delight offered by play as much as I need the purpose and stability of work.
Dr. Stuart Brown, author of the book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul and founder of the National Institute of Play, writes, "Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work...true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play" (127).
I need to play again. I need to make sure it happens. I need to live a little!
Today, I want to offer an actual plan for play that you and I can follow. If you're playful by nature, this is for you—you'll enjoy dreaming up new ways to get active and creative. If you resist fun in the name of productivity, if you get so busy you forget to play, if life is hard and heavy, this is for you, too. The Play Project will give you a much-needed mental and physical break to refresh and restore you on a daily and weekly basis. After you come back from some play time, you'll probably be more creative and productive than ever.
During Christmas break, take time to generate ideas for everyday play (simple activities you enjoy, that relax you, like doodling, baking brownies, playing solitaire, jumping on a trampoline, or folding an origami swan), more involved play (like ice skating, hiking, or visiting an art museum) and writing-specific play (like penning a poem from a fun prompt or trying some flash fiction).
Join the #PlayProject Community
Join the Play Project, and you'll transform January into a month of delight.
Let's follow each other's play progress by using the #PlayProject hashtag in our status updates at Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Let's find each other, and for the month of January, we'll balance out our resolutions with play. Dr. Brown writes, "Far from standing in opposition to each other, play and work are mutually supportive" (126).
"[P]lay and work are mutually supportive" Dr. Stuart Brown #PlayProject
No one gets more play points by being more ambitious, and no one gets docked points for falling behind and getting too serious. Think up super-easy playful activities to offer you at least a passing grin on even the hardest, longest days. For example, if you find yourself at 11:30 p.m. one night without having taken a single moment to play, search online for a knock-knock joke and type up your favorite on Instagram. It can be that simple.
Wherever we are in the world, the #PlayProject can bring us together for one month, to laugh, applaud, relax for a minute, and report on how much more creative and productive we feel.
In the next few weeks, let's plan.
In January, let's play.
Step One: Make Your Play List
Authentic play comes from deep down inside us....It emerges from the imaginative force within. That's the adaptive power of play: with a pinch of pleasure, it integrates our deep physiological, emotional, and cognitive capacities. And quite without knowing it, we grow. —Dr. Stuart Brown, Play (126)
Grab a notebook and start listing fun things you already do and want to continue, ideas you used to enjoy but haven't done for a long time, or activities and outings you've never tried that seem relaxing, nourishing or fun. Think of ideas for everyday play, more involved play, and writing-specific play.
I already hula hoop, so I'll want to keep that going. I used to take a lot of photographs but haven't for a while, so I'm going to actually schedule that into my month (watch for a flood of #PlayProject photos on Instagram), and I've never shot a bow and arrow, so I might plan an outing to an archery range.
It might be tempting to start jotting down things you've heard are fun, but don't necessarily excite you. Take time to figure out what fits you.
Dr. Stuart Brown, author of Play and founder of the National Institute for Play, has identified eight play personalities. You'll find the personalities described on pages 66-70 of the book Play, and I'll list them here with abbreviated descriptions. They may help you generate ideas in keeping with your personality's tendencies:
- The Joker: The class clown who makes others laugh, you may find the most fun in playing practical jokes.
- The Kinesthete: Always on the move, you might be an athlete or you might want to play Twister—but more to be moving around than to win.
- The Explorer: Whether physically exploring by traveling, emotionally exploring by searching for a deeper feeling, or mentally exploring by learning something new, you want to go where you've never gone before.
- The Competitor: You enjoy a competitive game, and you want to play, to fight, to win, whether playing alone or on teams.
- The Director: You organize, plan and execute events and activities, from parties to outings.
- The Collector: You collect objects, like coins, or experiences, like visiting every national park; you may collect on your own or with others.
- The Artist/Creator: The key to play for the artist/creator is to make something, regardless of whether or not you show it to someone.
- The Storyteller: Imagination is key, and because of this, you can bring play to almost any activity; storytellers love writing novels, plays, performing, lecturing.
Which of these play personalities seems most like you? If you're a collector, work in some outings that fit your fun—visit antique stores to find the next button for your collection or buy another model car to expand your display. If you're a Kinesthete, plan a jog, dance, and climb a tree. Recognizing your dominant type can help you build in plenty of activities and outings that you'll truly enjoy.
At the same time, even if active play is your thing, don't be afraid to sit down and play Settlers of Catan with your kids. If creating art is your kind of play, don't be afraid to plan a coffee outing with a friend. You can play in a lot of different ways, within your play personality and stretching beyond your tendencies.
Brainstorm. Make a long list with more than 31 ideas, so you'll have plenty to choose from.
Step Two: Plan Your Play
Does it spoil the fun to plan out our play?
I think not. I think it ensures we step away from the desk for a few minutes to stretch and laugh or have fun with the writing itself. Play gives us something to write about. Play makes sure a day doesn't go by without a little levity.
Read through your long list of ideas and pencil an activity into each of January's 31 days. They can be short and simple, or longer and more involved. For the more involved ideas, open your calendar and look for a weekend where you have a chunk of free time. Block it out and phone to reserve your spot at the skating rink, pottery class, or recording studio. If you're the type to brush aside your play plans when the day arrives, schedule it on an electronic calendar as an event and turn on the notification. When it beeps and flashes on your phone or desktop, commit.
You need not always break away from work to play. Find ways to brainstorm as part of your work, because play and work need not be mutually exclusive. A couple of easy ideas: play beat-the-clock on a mindless task you've got to plow through, or pull out a big piece of poster board and start creating a mind map to explore various solutions to a problem that's got you stuck. Add color and images. See if the answer presents itself as your brain stops fighting so hard to force its way through.
"The quality that work and play have in common is creativity." Dr. Stuart Brown #PlayProject
Step Three: Play!
On January 1st, it's time to play!
By all means, feel free to start intentionally playing in December, but the official #PlayProject begins in January. As your days unfold, you may decide to undertake a different activity or outing than you originally recorded on your worksheets.
No problem! That's why we have erasers and Whiteout and digital devices. If you've been planning and tracking your play project on Evernote and Google calendar, update with changes. If you've been writing longhand, erase or cross out the original idea, record what you actually did, and then check it off.
Feels good, doesn't it?
Note of the effects of the play:
- Did it give you physical or mental energy?
- Do you feel more alert or creative? To what degree?
- How did it affect your relationships and your level of happiness?
- Are you feeling frustrated at play activities interrupting more pressing matters?
- Is your play having minimal impact or transforming your days? Describe in a sentence or two.
Understanding play's impact (or lack thereof) you can help you tweak your project.
Step Four: Document and Share the Fun
Take a photo and Instagram it, write about it on your blog, report on your play via Facebook or Twitter, using the #PlayProject hashtag.
I'm providing visuals you can grab to use for each. The top image is Pinterest-ready. Next one down is prepped for Instagram. The one just above Step Four is sized for Twitter, and the bottom image is for Facebook.
Grab these images if you like, or just type out a description and include the #PlayProject hashtag. By connecting ourselves in a community of play, we build in accountability and celebration, while reminding others in our circles to make time for play.
Ready for Play?
That's the rundown on January's Play Project! Open a Word document, record notes in Evernote, or flag a page in your bullet journal to capture your ideas. I'll be providing encouragement and examples heading into our Month of Fun and throughout the Play Project, but more than anything, I want to connect with you, to see your play in action.
Stay in touch. I'll watch for you, hoping to spot you here, there, and everywhere, having fun!