The Quill & Pint’s Saturday Creative Writing Workshops are designed to help you pull the roughest of stories out of your brain from an in-workshop prompt. We do this in 20 minutes, cold. No thinking about it ahead of time, no planning, plotting, character development in advance. It’s just you, your prompt, and whatever pops into your head after the timer starts. But sometimes that 20-minute deadline looming while you try and craft something coherent out of a prompt you knew nothing about 2 minutes ago might feel scary. Why?
Because letting loose and writing for the fun of it is outside of your grown-up, reality-living, perfectionist, prove-yourself comfort zone. Letting loose and writing for the fun of it is play.
You heard me right – our workshop format? It’s play. Sure, our prompts can range from serious to silly, and you’ll learn lots of helpful things about writing mechanics. You’ll even have a written piece of work at the end of it, but the whole point of these prompt exercises is to take a moment to play with words on the page. There’s no “correct” way to do it, and no pressure for it to be good – there should only the fun of creating.
There are so many important benefits to incorporating play into your life as an adult. (I could write about them here but this New York Times article explains it well.) The article does reference this Scholarpedia entry to define what can be characterized as play, which states play is “self-chosen, self-directed, intrinsically motivated, guided by mental rules, imaginative, and conducted in an active, alert, but relatively non-stressful state of mind.” All of this applies to our writing prompt exercises. What creates a bit of friction, then, is the expectation we bring into it.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “expectation is a joy killer.” When we have in our mind that things have to be a certain way, it doesn’t leave room for alternatives, and we stagnate. The thing that used to be fun for us becomes difficult, and we feel more stress when we do it. But remove that expectation and you open possibilities that can propel your story – and your experience while crafting it – to new and exciting places. What if you took that character in a different direction? Or what if you cut that whole plotline out entirely? It may work, it may not, but the joy of that exploration is the point. It’s how we learn and grow as writers.
If you apply this thinking to a 20-minute writing prompt exercise, and strip away the expectation of it being “good,” you can find that sense of play in your writing again. Because here’s the thing: writing cold from a prompt in 20 minutes is a brain dump, the roughest of rough drafts at best. It’s certainly not your publishable work. It has no point in even being good, which is the point. It’s designed to get you writing something – anything – and just let it flow.
Have fun. Play. There’s no expectation to make this your magnum opus. If something comes of it down the line, great! But if not, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. It can live forgotten in a notebook for the rest of its days, and that’s perfectly all right. It has served its purpose. It got you to have fun writing something.
So if you’d like to incorporate more play into your writing, ask yourself a few questions to get started:
What do you love about writing?
What about writing is fun to you?
What are your expectations for your writing?
How could those expectations be limiting you?
When was the last time you created something simply for the fun of it?
How can you incorporate more play into your writing experience?
And for a bit of homework, go and write something fun, just for the singular audience of you. Something you will never share with anyone else. Leave your expectations at the door, fill a notebook page with the most fun and ridiculous thing you can think of, and let yourself enjoy the process.