Ideas and inspiration don’t come out of nowhere. There’s a lot of work that goes into feeling original or inventive. Luckily, a lot of that work is actually play. Finding a sense of creative ease in your day-to-day life can help you feel more inspired and productive. Let’s talk about how you can play around to get there.

A Scrabble board sits on a wooden table with a few illegible words laid out on it. In the foreground is a tray containing the letters M, I, F, E, W, N, E. The image has the text "Finding Creative Ease Through Play."

For me, creative ease is a pervasive sense of peace around my writing. I don’t struggle to sit down and write. Inspiration comes easily. I’m not fighting myself every single step of the way. My mind is focused on the thing I’m writing and not going in a million other directions.

When I’ve cultivated creative ease in my life, I can show up to my writing time and hit the ground running. Basically, I feel more like a writer.

Play has consistently been the one thing that helps me feel more inspired. When I make time to play, I can write more. When I don’t, writing feels impossible.

And if I’m being honest, the events of my childhood probably made me a writer.

A Very Feral Childhood

I had a super feral, working class childhood.

(Don’t tell Gen X because they like to think they were the last feral children. And like, I’m happy to let them have that because honestly, they started the hard work of actually making the world a livable place, so we’ll consider me a Gen Y/Millennial outlier and not the norm, okay?)

I was a latchkey kid early in elementary school. We didn’t have cable until I was around 12 years old, and I grew up in the suburban sprawl of my city where you couldn’t walk or take public transportation really anywhere. My time was mostly spent riding my bike through the neighborhood, playing wall ball with the neighborhood kids, and reading books.

But there was also a lot of time spent in imaginative play. While what I have listed here doesn’t even represent a fraction of the pretend play time we got up to, these are the play sessions I remember most and that we did the most often.

Creative Ease Through Identity: Granny’s Wardrobe

My great grandmother, A.K.A. Granny, lived in a little pink house with a big open yard and a gravel driveway. She was widowed about a year after I was born so I only really ever knew her in that context.

There was a wardrobe in one of the bedrooms in her home that was always full of “fineries.” I mean, I’m sure the stuff was nice, but in my child brain, it was the fanciest stuff I could imagine. Mostly because it was old.

I spent a lot of time putting on Granny’s old dresses or hats. I think there was even a fur coat I had access to for a while, until it was determined I was too rowdy to play with it.

These dresses formed the basis of many a tea party, or play session where I spoke in a weird accent and acted out all my dreams of someday becoming the evil stepmother.

Those play sessions let me try on different identities that I probably would’ve never dreamed up without the clothes to go with them. And honestly, instilled in me a love of creating my own Halloween costumes that followed me through the rest of my life.

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Creative Ease Through Invention: Grandpa’s Garage

My grandpa and my uncle lived together in a very midcentury house before midcentury stuff was cool. The garage was full of everything you could ever imagine–shelves filled the space, each one chock-full of treasures.

My brother, cousin, and I spent hours going through the stuff we found there. Cords, wires, coffee cans filled with rusted bits and bobs–there were so many wonderful things in that garage. My two greatest treasures were a very worn in softball that I used to practice (I played competitive fast pitch up until college) and a Charlie Brown trashcan that I still use in my office to this day.

When we were in the garage, we were always scheming and planning, trying to think of what sort of things we could invent with the items we had at our disposal. We never actually made anything, but we spent a lot of time thinking of all the things we could maybe do.

Creative Ease Through Instinct: The Pond

At the end of the street I grew up on was a cul-de-sac. And beyond that cul-de-sac was a paved road that we called the dirt road because it was always covered in mud from the most recent rain. If you followed the dirt road, you could play in a 30-yard ditch-like gully surrounded by trees and exposed roots that were perfect for climbing, or you could look on the other side of the road and see the pond.

All the kids on my street fucking loved the pond. We went there and did whatever the hell we wanted to do.

If you were brave, you walked through the corrugated drain pipe under the dirt road and dipped your toes in the pond on the other side. Also, if you did this, I assume you have super immunity to any sort of disease in adulthood because that storm drain was full of aggressive algae.

(We all played with the algae. Sometimes we’d steal empty bottles from our home trashcans and fill them with algae. We’d leave them in the gully for a while to see what happened. We called this science. We were between the ages of five and ten years old.)

This area was where several corrugated steel drainage pipes met and all the excess rainwater in the neighborhood eventually made its way there. In the far southeast of this area was a fun little stream that flowed over broken concrete blocks that were dumped there when the houses were being built. In the southwest were three drainpipes that emptied into the same area, and we were all terrified of it because we’d seen too much of Stephen King’s IT miniseries on TV at an age when we were too young to do so.

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When there was snow, the hills in this area were perfect for sledding. My friends and I even inflated a pool raft once and used it to slide down the grassy hills until it popped.

This was a place we kept coming even when we were older and didn’t play pretend anymore. I have a very specific memory of being 13 years old and my crush, who’s backyard faced the center of this weird culvert, seeing me and a friend out in the snow one day, coming out to join us, and then knocking me down, filling my hat with snow, jamming it on my head, and pushing my face in the snow.

(This was also the area in my neighborhood where you found porn left by the older kids. You see, in the pre-internet times, you had to get your nudie magazines the way the pioneers did, by finding them hidden in the woods.)

Creative Ease in a Feral Adulthood

A lot of creative ease is found in play, which is to say that those artist dates Julia Cameron talked about are super, super necessary. Check out these super chill ideas for artist dates or even these 100 self-date ideas to help you brainstorm some ways you can play and build creative ease.

Here’s how I’ve been reinforcing creative ease in my life lately. Also, I’m like, super feral in comparison to a lot of other women my age.

(That’s not a brag. It’s probably more of a shameful confession than anything.)

So, these may or may not be things you can easily make space for. But if you can, I recommend trying them.

001: Movie Residencies

Many people have a movie night. Chris and I do what I like to call movie residencies. That’s where we focus on a particular series or films about a certain thing for an extended period of time.

Lately, we’ve been very into the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series. A few nights a week, when there isn’t a hockey game on, we’ve been watching one of those movies.

I will be the first to admit that the stories aren’t always good. But that’s not why we’re watching these.

The movies give us something to think about and talk about. We critique them or rank them using different criteria. We imagine how we’d get out of the danger portrayed in the movies.

I may or may not keep telling my long-suffering husband that Nightmare on Elm Street is Inception for intellectuals.

The point is, the longer we stay in a particular story world or topic, the easier it is to talk about it and imagine new parts of it. That’s the real entertainment of movies!

002: Sports

It’s almost spring which means it’s already in the mid-70s here in Oklahoma. When Chris gets home from work, we step into the backyard and play catch.

It’s just two grown adults with their baseball mitts throwing a ball back and forth while their elderly dog lays on the porch and looks very bored about the whole thing.

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A couple of weekends ago, we went ice skating. And in a few weeks, we’re going to bite the bullet and buy some hockey skates, helmets, gloves, and sticks so we can hit up the stick and puck nights at our local ice rink.

We aren’t particularly great at sports. And yeah. We loved playing sports when were growing up, but I don’t think either of us qualifies as an athlete anymore. That’s not the point.

These activities are fun things we can do together that are outside the realm of normal stuff we do. It’s a fun way to move and use parts of our brains and bodies that don’t normally get a lot of action.

003: Dining Table Crafts

We recently purchased a very large, round dining table off Facebook Marketplace under the guise of wanting to host more holiday gatherings.

In reality, we wanted a big surface to do fun stuff on.

During the holidays, I made a ton of Christmas ornaments with air dry clay on that table. My husband has assembled many a Gundam on that surface. Right now, I have a Rolife model kit and my friendship bracelet supplies sitting there waiting for my return.

Some nights, Chris and I hang out at the table and just put stuff together. It’s great.

004: Playing in My Planner

Perhaps the most useful way I play and make creative ease is in my planner.

I shared this sort of bullet journal earlier this year, and I’m keeping up the practice in my 2024 Hobonichi Cousin. It’s already full of markers, stickers, and collage stuff.

005: Music and Daydreaming

Okay. So. This is where I just listen to music and daydream.

My daily cardio workout is basically an hour of this while I climb uphill on a treadmill. But I have been known to start my morning doing this while I sip my coffee on the couch.

If you have some time for it, I recommend sitting down and putting on a record. Listen to it from start to finish. Sip a nice beverage while you listen. Let your brain go where it goes.

It’s simple, but I know a lot of people who can’t let themselves sit still for that long. The key is to let your brain rest and wander, even if you feel guilty about having a billion things to do.

How Do You Build Creative Ease?

What practices do you have for making some space for play in your life? Did you also have a feral childhood? Are you a feral adult? Tell me all your favorite playful activities that help you build a better writing life.

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