Writers Play


Recently, I’ve been thinking about and researching the science behind play. As I was learning about play, I realized reading about play is actually play for me! One researcher talked about different play personalities and it got me thinking about how we play with words.

I still remember walking out of the medical school library one night with some friends. We’d been studying the lymphatic system (which is similar to arteries and veins but it carries lymph, which is fluid containing inflammatory markers and immune-modulating cells—okay, this is probably way more than you wanted or needed to know about lymph.)

Anyway—as we were walking along, my friend Alex suddenly shouted, “I’m emphatic about lymphatics!”

That was 24 years ago and I still think it’s funny.

Very simple word play, but I love it.

I imagine most writers like word play. I love to catch Will Shortz on NPR on Sunday mornings. He gives a listener a word puzzle to solve and I play along. Each week it’s a different game. Recently he told a listener a category and the listener had to come up with something in that category that started with the last two letters of the category.

One example I remember: Name a cereal. Cereal ends with the letters al, so the answer is a type of cereal that starts with these two letters. Mr. Shortz gave two answers to this one. Got them? See below to find out if you came up with the same answers as the Puzzle Master.

I think the list of games writers like to play is endless so I’ll just tell you my favorite: Quiddler. What’s yours?

Story writing games! Who doesn’t love a good story game? Even if it’s just between you and a writing friend. My sister, a friend, and I used to write installments of an adventure story. I’d write a scene and pass it along to the next person, who would write the next scene. Was it great literature? No. Was is fun? Yes!

Or it could be a writing contest. The Nashua Public Library recently asked writers to submit a 10-word love story. I saw a flyer about it as I was leaving the library one night and I thought about it for days. Here’s what I finally came up with:

He fell.

She stopped.

They hobbled.

She bandaged.

He fell…

Another (weird) writing contest I love is the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Bulwer-Lytton penned the words, “It was a dark and stormy night…” The first sentence of that novel ran on for 59 words, and the contest celebrates “wretched writing” by asking entrants to submit the first sentence of a story, with wordiness and multiple dependent clauses taking the place of brevity and word choice. I love reading the winning entrants each year.

There are plenty of ways to take our words and our writing seriously. I’ve mentioned a few ways to play with our words. The outcome is fun but, as with play in general, it serves us well: it increases our social connections, our creativity, and our moods.

How do you like to play as a writer?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. The answers to the word game I mentioned by Will Shortz are—you guesses them!—All Bran and Alpha-Bits. Happy playing and happy writing!





7 thoughts on “Writers Play

  1. Pingback: Writing and Creativity | Live to Write – Write to Live

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