Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Writers on the internet spend a lot of time complaining about how much time they waste on the internet, and while the symmetrical irony of this affords me no end of amusement, that's not why I'm bringing it up right now.

Often the internet is seen as a time suck, an evil force that takes us away from our real writing. Discussions of this often end with, "Unplug it and write."

Which is excellent advice if one has a story burning to be told, waiting there in the brain for the opportunity to pour out onto the screen. If that is the case, by all means, have at it. Write that story and don't let email or blogs or Twitter or Facebook get in the way.

But I've noticed that time I spend online (or in offline non-writing activities) includes an element of essential play. Yes, I use the internet for story-related research, but that is not the only legitimate writerly use for it. There's a value in the socializing I do online, just as there's a value to the face-to-face socializing I do. It's not a value that can be measured in word count. There's a value in my following strange links to bizarre stories I never would have heard of otherwise. The writer part of me picks up on stories everywhere--including the internet. There's not an immediate reward in measurable output; I'm not a computer program. I may see a phrase or item somewhere that doesn't spark a specific story until two years later. But the point is that in roaming through the world, whether IRL or virtual, I'm picking up bits and pieces of future stories.

Something happens in the brain during playtime. Play is messy and unstructured and creative. It cultivates the unexpected. It simultaneously feeds and stimulates our curiosity.

Staring at the empty screen of a word-processing file isn't always the best way for me to unlock a story. Sometimes the best way is through doing anything other than chasing the muse. The muse often acts like the characters in Lewis Carroll's looking-glass, where the way to approach them is to walk in the opposite direction. Part of writing is listening and waiting, giving our neurons time to make connections, getting to know characters, fooling with different plots, trying on voices.

Play doesn't always have to be seen as procrastination. Especially for a creative person, a certain amount of it is necessary.


  1. And I am so walking in the opposite direction of a particular WIP right now. Playing with other projects and experiencing great joy. Three cheers for playtime!