The first ingredient in writing is play. How easily we forget.
We get ambitious. We grow impatient. We try to stuff it in between appointments.
And yes, we write.
And our writing serves all kinds of practical purposes (like opening doors and repairing staircases). But it isn’t necessarily fun. And it isn’t necessarily good or true.
This weekend, I saw Ani Difranco in concert. I listened to her as a teenager and later, in my early 20s, tried to catch her at the Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ontario, where I had my first newspaper job. Unfortunately there was a horrific motorcycle accident that evening and instead of bobbing along to Ani’s guitar I found myself on the street with a notebook, trying to understand why the body was under not one but two tarps. I missed the performance completely.
Nearly a decade later, I tried again. There was nothing to stop me this time—I am my own boss now, and I do what I want.
Ani stepped onto the stage in a cargo pants and a sleeveless white top. She erupted into song, serenading us with stories of love and injustice. In her signature warble, plucking her guitar. The crowd—dedicated fans who have probably been listening to her even longer than me—shouted I love yous.
She loved us back.
What struck me was her playfulness. Her joy. Her willingness to tango with unexpected ideas, to let them unravel. How, after more than 25 years and 20 albums (produced by her own record label, no less!), do you maintain this sense of curiosity, let it lead you?
Lately I’ve been writing from my head instead of from that deeper, unknowable place where creativity lives. My left brain is trying to strong-arm my right brain into doing something useful, and doing it quick. But to write well you need both sides to work together.
The creator and the editor. The manager and the muse.
Perhaps you can relate. Maybe your writing feels stiff, overwrought.
It doesn’t matter what you’re writing. If you aren’t curious about or excited by it, the process might be a little painful. Or worse: you’ll feel nothing at all. And none of that will make it very interesting to read.
Of course, it can’t all be butterflies and gumdrops. Like with any relationship, sometimes it will feel like work.
That’s why you need to game the system.
Set aside some time to play. Do things that will inspire you—even if they have nothing to do with writing or your business (on the surface).
And when you have an idea, write it right away—not later.
And when you don’t have an idea, start anywhere.
Or try this Ani-inspired writing prompt:
Write about something you’re “allergic” to. Actually or metaphorically.
As for me…
I’m going to keep trying to be more like Ani Difranco. To pursue my craft with abandon. To do it my own way, owning the means to production and the art itself.
And I’ve got to start going to more concerts.