Sunday, May 14, 2017

Playfulness in Creativity and Problem-Solving

by Rachel Kobin 

Playfulness is a crucial part of what I do to help people tap into their creativity in the Philadelphia Writers Workshop. As children, we learn by playing. We aren't as focused on the results as we are on enjoying the process. As adults, we lose touch with this spirit of play, and this can make it harder to spark unbridled creativity. When we were four years old, did we sit down with our Play-Doh and think, "Now, let's make a sculpture so striking it will soon sit in a museum?" No, when we were kids, we enjoyed the feeling of having that dough in our hands, the color and the smell of it. We pushed it through a garlic press and to our delight it came out looking like miniature purple spaghetti (pasketti!). We showed our blobs of clay to our parents and told the stories behind them. We didn't compare ourselves to famous sculptors because we didn't know or care about who they were. We were too busy enjoying every moment of interacting with our clay to think about how our miraculous blobs might not compare to “Great Works of Art.”

Some writers come to my workshop with one purpose or a fixed idea of what kind of writer they are: One might want to write a personal essay and have it published in a prestigious magazine, while another might have family members who have said, "You should write a children's book in rhyme!" Focusing too much on a goal, especially if it didn't come from our own desires, can be paralyzing.

Throwing all expectations out the window helps us avoid this kind of trap, but it’s not easy to do on our own. Using exercises that seem silly like beginning our writing by pairing veggies with random verbs, help reacquaint us with the playfulness we knew and were often untaught throughout our formal education. Just last week in the Tuesday Night Workshop, we wrote stories about childhood without using the letter a. Activities like these trick our brains into liberating our creativity. By allowing ourselves to be silly, and not expecting our first efforts to even make any sense, we free ourselves to keep going, to get to the rough draft. Once we have our jumbled ideas down on paper in a rough draft, we can begin refining the writing to make it say what we originally intended.

I believe re-learning how to let go and have fun is a skill that can be applied to many situations, not only those in the arts. How often might we be missing a possible solution to a problem at work when we bypass the fun — the brainstorming, the drawing, the imagining? Stopping to play isn't a waste of time; it's a way of giving our brains time to juggle ideas around. Sometimes a masterpiece does emerge, and other times we just feel better, which, of all the worst case scenarios, is one we can simply enjoy. 

Rachel Kobin has been the Director of the Philadelphia Writers Workshop since 2010. Rachel uses the Amherst Artist & Writers Method to help writers of all levels claim or re-claim their unique voice. Through experimentation and play, writers of all genres and forms practice the elements of their craft in a supportive environment. Writers looking to develop new material and writers in the process of writing full-length manuscripts find the support they need to complete their projects. Learn more about workshops and private editing services at Contact Rachel at 610-449-3773 or

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