A Multi-Vitamin for Souls: Play

Zane Grey, a prolific wordsmith whose eighty-nine novels sold over forty million copies, learned about the importance of play the day he learned about fishing.

As a boy, his parents disapproved of those who fished. According to his biography, it offended their work ethic. But Grey fell in love with rivers and fish and the great outdoors, and when he met Old Muddy Miser, he learned an invaluable lesson:

You must make fishing a study, a labor of love, no matter what your vocation will be. You must make time for your fishing. Whatever you do, you will do it all the better for the time and thought you give fishing.

Old Mudd Miser’s words allowed Grey to put play higher on his to-do list than his parents would have permitted, and through it, Grey found that there was no shame in loving and doing an activity that didn’t seem to gain him much in the world of adult economy.

Why is an activity like fishing not a waste of time? Why might such things, in fact, be like vitamins for us creatives?

Fishing or walking or painting or tinkering “fiddles” with your creative dials, says Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic. It’s about opening our minds through creativity. It’s not about performance or perfectionism. Thus, when novelist Tracy Groot gets tangled on a plot, she knits.

Even Einstein recognized the value of giving ourselves quiet downtime. He names this “combinatory play,” writes Gilbert.

We who get too good at adulting need playtimes.

Apply It: How do you fiddle with your creative dials?

From Creative Juices: A Splash of Story Craft, Process & Creative Soul Care, available Feb., 2019.