Writing as Deep Play

Photo by Carol Burbank

I take myself seriously, seriously enough, anyway, to push myself, to keep myself doing what’s important to me. And writing is important to me, so I do a lot of it. But the best writing I do is generated by curiosity, by joy, by diving deep into myself with a childlike sense of play.

For example, I just published an article in a collection about leadership, “Shapeshifter Leadership,” in The Transforming Leader: New Approaches to Leadership for the Twenty-first Century. (Click here to check it out at the publisher’s website!) It was quite a process, research, then several ugly drafts, a competent final draft, two deep edits, two shallow edits, and a final copyedit to make sure it was ready for (finally!) publication. And it was fun — to grapple with an idea that pushed the limits of my thinking, to try to communicate the complexities of an idea that isn’t necessarily intuitive. Sometimes I caught myself giggling — the trickster writer writing about the trickster leader! What fun….

My argument, that it’s time for the shapeshifter/trickster leader to bring us out of our rut, and into a more hopeful future, celebrates flexibility, innovation, irreverence, and the spirit of play. Of course, readers might not have as much fun as I did writing it — it is, after all, an academic article, styled that way on purpose! (Ah, the restrictions and liberations of style — subject of another post….)

But I hope we women writers can take that message to heart, and practice shapeshifting – becoming ourselves in many different ways! And learning to start off with a bit of wonderment, looking for irreverent and flexible ways of getting ourselves to write, and surprise ourselves. The next time you sit down to write, see if you can find a way to wake up your inner child, or whatever part of you can say in that moment, “I wonder what I’ll find out! I wonder what will happen!” Draw a picture. Write a letter. Write a quick “wild mind” prompt from a photograph or an odd, discovered phrase. Let yourself go!

When you can do that, and your essay/story/poem appears in a book, in between your well-earned strutting, you can sneak in a grin, remembering the moment that launched the whole thing — the courage to say, “I wonder…” as you savor the rewards of writing (and rewriting) until you find out what happens!

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