Recently, I’ve been participating in a reading and writing group with a couple of friends, where we are reading Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings by Diana Pavlac Glyer.
The book delves into the relationship between Lewis, Tolkien, and the other members of their creative writing group at Oxford University, focusing in particular on how the authors’ friendships influenced each other’s work. In case you can’t tell from my business name, I have had an interest in the Inklings for quite some time, and the mutual respect these authors felt for each other and their work has always inspired me. However, one thing that has hit me in a fresh way while reading this book is how much fun the Inklings had.
When we think about Lewis and Tolkien, we usually think of Lewis’s fanciful imagination giving rise to Narnia and the universe of Out of the Silent Planet, or Tolkien toiling away to build the universe, culture, and languages of Middle Earth. This all sounds like a lot of work, especially when you consider what an extraordinary feat of literature The Lord of the Rings truly is. But in reality, play and fun were key elements of the group’s process and even their successes. They wrote poems together for no purpose apart from seeing who could string together the most unique array of words. They created stories and poetry about each other.
It’s true that they produced some of the most influential works of all time. But when they weren’t hard at work, they enjoyed playing with language and sharing that passion with each other. Glyer writes, “When you look at the lives of innovators, there is often little distinction between work and play. And when creative people make it a point to spend time together, new ideas and joint projects emerge with little effort, a natural part of the rhythm of each day.” This quote made me stop and think…do I take the time to have fun when I’m writing?
After all, I’m not really working on a project right now. I’m just doing a lot of writing exercises for the community I’m apart of and revising some stories. Sometimes I feel like that stuff, while kind of enjoyable, doesn’t really have a lot of potential. I forget that writing exercises and stories are potential. Nothing happens overnight.
I’ve been writing professionally for fifteen years, and sometimes I still wonder why I don’t have wall to wall projects planned out or why the next book isn’t under construction. After that many years, shouldn’t I have my act together by now? But to think that I should be “better” at this after that amount of time or that there is even an “act” to get together is extremely egotistical and even belittling to myself. Here’s a thought. What if we never actually arrive? What if everything we create, whether it’s a 500 word writing exercise or a book, carries the same weight toward bringing us closer to that goal of increasing our creative potential? Last week, I wrote about how sometimes, the things we create are just for ourselves, to help us deal with the trauma and dark places we all carry around. We make the mistake of thinking that because we aren’t working toward a project, it isn’t worth doing. But what if we stopped focusing on the product and just made having fun a part of the process? I think this idolatry of “the next book” is something we as writers should collectively abandon.
It’s a noble goal to pursue…but if you’re letting it suck your joy, it might be time to rethink your priorities. I’m not saying don’t write a book. I’m saying don’t make producing more important than the joy inherent in the process. Bandersnatch discusses how by Lewis’s own admission, a formative part of his writing life was the fantasy world he and his brother created in their attic. I had my own version of that world, and I’m sure you did, too. It was okay to create for fun back then, and it’s okay to do it now.
So, how do you make it happen? My free Ultimate Writing Project Workbook is a great place to start. It contains dozens of writing prompts, worksheets, templates, and tools to help you generate new material and have fun developing a project you already have underway. Click here to grab a copy and start creating.