Monday, May 15, 2017

Let's Play! ~ Christy Mihaly

By Jlbirman1 (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (]
Writing is my jobit's how I make a living. I love it, but sometimes it's a tough slog: a deadline looms, a beloved manuscript isn’t selling, and words bog down and refuse to sing. Ugh.

As the weather warms, it's a good time to remember an important part of the work of writing that we don't always honor: PLAY. 

Earlier this month I had the great pleasure of hanging out with a bunch of artists for a week. Watching the visual artists at work was a powerful reminder that play is central to the creative process.

The lucky participants in Vermont Artists Week,
Vermont Studio Center, May 2017
View from my studio window:
the VSC's Red Mill, on the Gihon River,
Johnson, Vermont
The event was a week-long residency at the Vermont Studio Center, on the Gihon River in Johnson, Vermont. VSC offers full-month residencies to artists and writers from around the world . . . but each spring they reserve one week for Vermont artists and writers. What a gift!

I'd submitted my work in January and then held my breath for a month. I was thrilled to hear in February that I was accepted for Vermont Artists Week. Finally, at the beginning of May, from the far corners of this small state, we assembled: eighteen writers (poets, novelists, memoirists, nonfiction writers) and 30+ visual artists (painters, sculptors, printers, photographers). Among these were several who writer and/or illustrate kids' books! The very air was abuzz with creativity.

Butmy point about the playing: 
Artist at easel, by the river -- plein air painting

As I visited the artists' studios and admired the art that these folks had created, I was struck to hear them all describe what they'd done at VSC as “playing.” A woman who usually works with metal had used the week to play with cloth. A sculptor who works in wood or stone was playing with clay. Someone else was experimenting with a new way to compose her collages. Another was trying out new materials and playing with new combinations of colors.

They all were having tons of fun. 

My writing studio for the week.
(Yes, it has a view of the river)
Over in the writers' studios, we writers were soaking up the atmosphere, taking advantage of all that VSC offers . . . and working hard. Among the writers, I sensed higher levels of angst than I'd seen in the art studios. Like many of the writers, I'd  arrived with a long “To Do” list, and didn't want to waste a moment of precious writing time. 

Halfway through a week of intense work, though, my brain seized up. I was stuck on a balky manuscript. Of course, stops and starts can all be part of the writing process, but . . . I could see that those playful artists were on to something good. I started thinking about ways I could bring more play into my writing life. 

Here are a few ideas I collected:

Write a poem. It could be a little ditty about anything, just for fun. A silly rhyme! A haiku! Or, you could try a poem focused on a work in progress, perhaps free verse from your main character's point of view. 

The writers' version of playing:
a manual typewriter in the common area was
an invitation to type out random thoughts and notes

Write in a new genre. If you're a nonfiction writer, experiment with a short story. If you're a novel writer, try a first-person magazine article. Play around with it!

Play with point of view. 
Consider writing a page or a chapter of your story from a different POV. 

Sculpture of branches and feathers,
by Sabine Likhite 
Appreciate art. Just breathing the air of the art studios was enough to get some creative juices flowing. Try closing your eyes, and picture what you're writing about. How would you re-create your subject with paints or clay or wax or fabric? Does that give you new inspiration to paint with your words?

Eve at Journey's End

Of course sometimes, the working writer needs to get up out of the chair and find some fun elsewhere! How about these options?

Walk! Walking is an important part of the writing process for me. In Johnson, I enjoyed a woodsy walk to Journey's End falls with artist friend Eve Jacobs-Carnahan. 
Fairy House
We admired the waterfall, and then, thanks to Eve and her artist's eye, we also appreciated some unexpected creations left by prior hikers: fairy houses and gnome homes hidden in the underbrush. Some artistic souls had engaged in play that elves could be thankful for.

Ebenezer Book is awesome
(and not just because they carry my books!)

Visit your local bookstore, and read something fun! I visited (several times) the town of Johnson's outstanding local shop, Ebenezer Books. Along with a reference work for a nonfiction work-in-progress, I bought volumes of poetry and funny picture books -- that's some great play for a kids' writer!

Buy an artist (or a writer) a drink, and share some stories. Writers don't often get opportunities to compare notes with one another, and with artists, so if the chance presents itself, say yes! One of the joys of Vermont Artists’ Week was meeting so many neighbors (of both the writerly and artistic persuasions) and sharing stories of our work and our lives (and all the people we knew in common), and expanding our circles of creative colleagues. If that's not fun, what is?

So, if the grind gets you down, remember to play with your work! Try new things, notice the unexpected, and enjoy the journey.  Happy writing!
Covered bridge in the rain, Johnson.
Because, Vermont.


  1. What an exhilarating week for you, Christy! Such a wonderful opportunity to experience so many different "highs". I would imagine you returned home inspired and ready to tackle just about anything. =] Thanks for sharing your special week and the many ways you found to rekindle and recharge that creativity.

    1. Thanks, Anne! It was a wonderful week in a special place. (I'm still recovering, actually . . . .)

  2. Thanks for reminding us how important PLAY is - for our spirits and our stories.

    1. Thanks for reading, Sue. You're one of my playful-writer inspirations.

  3. What a gorgeous place for a getaway, Christy. Great tips, too. Thanks!

  4. Christy, thanks for this! It sounds so crazy to say "I don't have time to play, because I've got so much work to do!" when playing is exactly what we need to be doing. What seems like a contradiction is, in fact, not. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Thanks!

  5. Sounds like a great week, Christy! And what a great experience the Vermont Studio Center offers to its resident Vermonters.

  6. I was in a critique group years ago with a gal who spent several weeks in a type of artists' colony and had such wonderful things to say about it. All kind of artists like those you mentioned, as well as writers representing all kind of genres. I am so glad you had that opportunity and I know it will serve you well. Play on!

  7. Great tips to play with our work when we need more creative juices. Thanks, Christy!