Play Projects for Writers – Find Joy in 30 Days

The process feels completely counter-intuitive at first because it requires that you stop fretting about your ideal work or how you could ever get paid – and start doing something.

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Last month I decided that I was going to write a poem a day and post them on Medium.

This was a big deal for me because:

  1. My first published writing was poems even before I went into the newspaper world.
  2. I really wanted to be a poet when I grew up.
  3. I am super vulnerable when it comes to sharing my poems (even more than my art, actually).
  4. I have a lot of hang-ups about being a poet. Poets have a voice. I didn’t think I had one for a long time. I was too poor, too raw, too lacking in a million ways.

But I called it a play project and I did it. And it was so much fun. It was fun to take a break from novels and editing and coaching and just play at something totally different, something with no expectations.

A lot of writers I work with forget to play with their writing. They spend a lot of time fixated on one project or one purpose/goal—to get published, to get to 80,000 words, to get an agent.

That’s all lovely.

Until it isn’t.

Sometimes, our hyper-fixation on goals (when it comes to art or writing) and our desire to make a living at it, keeps us from playing and exploring and growing.

Some of us don’t want to grow or play and that’s fine, too! There’s no one way to be a writer and no one reason to and a lot of us only do it to make a living.

This post is probably not for those writers though. Sorry!

So what is this play project thing?

I first saw the idea in Marianne Catwell’s book, but it emerged at least a decade ago.

According to John Williams (from his website, Screw Work, Let’s Play):

The core of the programme is getting the participants to launch a play project – a 4 week project that will be fun to do and explores an area of work or creativity they feel drawn to. 

He continues by saying:

The process feels completely counter-intuitive at first because it requires that you stop fretting about your ideal work or how you could ever get paid – and start doing something. If you are stuck on that very first question “What would I enjoy?” you will benefit hugely from this. At a later stage, you can create further play projects to move you towards getting paid.

Here’s why Play Projects are the bomb-diggity:

You get into action at last so you don’t feel powerless over your life any more

You find out what you enjoy, what you don’t, what you’re good at, what you’re not so good at – all extremely useful information for your future work direction

It’s fun – you get your creative juices going again – and this is a much better state in which to make career decisions and make them happen. As one participant on our programme said “This has affected every area of my life – people are commenting that I haven’t looked this good in ages!”

Once you’re out in the world on the move, you meet a lot more interesting people and opportunities – sometimes you even land some paid work without really trying to!

What are the rules?

According to Marianne Cantwell and Williams:

  1. Pick a project that gets you excited.
  2. Make it something you can complete in 30 days.
  3. Have a tangible product at the end — Like three blog posts, 20 poems, 3 picture books.
  4. Make time for it. Put in 30 minutes a day or just three days a week. Be all Nike ad and “just do it.”
  5. Start

The key is to give yourself the freedom of thinking of these as mini projects, as play, but focused play. And then as you do it, it’s cool to ask yourself questions like:

Is this fun?

Why am I avoiding doing this?

Holy crud, do I hate this?

And for me? I found out that I loved writing poems every day.

Actually, I love it so much that I am still doing it (with weekends off) and I’m having the best time making new friends on MEDIUM (where I’m posting those poems) and exploring new groups of writers and poets and myself.

So, how about you? What’s your play project going to be?

Author: carriejonesbooks

I am the NYT and internationally-bestselling author of children's books, which include the NEED series, FLYING series, TIME STOPPERS series, DEAR BULLY and other books. I like hedgehogs and puppies and warm places. I have none of these things in my life.

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