"The Playful Way to Serious Writing," Roberta Allen

Pros: Fun exercises (and lots of them); childlike demeanor
Cons: The prompts aren’t that different from those in any other writing book
Rating: 4 out of 5

First published 6/18/2003

“The Playful Way to Serious Writing” was written by Roberta Allen, author of “Fast Fiction: Creating Fiction in Five Minutes.” In both books, Allen advocates the use of free writing in order to access your creativity. The idea is that you take a “prompt” or exercise of some kind, set a timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes, and then write. This isn’t the kind of writing where you plan and organize and outline–you just write whatever comes into your head and keep writing. This is supposed to help you turn off your inner critic and get down to the really creative stuff.

In “Fast Fiction,” Allen specifically applied this technique to the creation of the short-short story, and to the creation of longer pieces of writing from smaller building-blocks. In “The Playful Way to Serious Writing” she’s sticking with the simple idea of just getting started and being creative, without worrying about what comes next.

A Sense of Childlike Wonder and Exploration

Allen does a wonderful job of establishing a childlike tone to the book. The font is large and plain, and looks a bit like a child’s handwriting. The sentences are short and direct, kind of like what you’d expect to hear from a child. Allen discusses events from her own childhood, and the prompts seem to evoke a child’s curiosity and lack of understanding about the world. She talks about the energy that some words and ideas have, always capitalizing it (“ENERGY”)–it seems a little bit silly, but again, it’s the sort of thing you can imagine a child doing.

This is a good thing. It helps to establish a tone and sense of freedom–it helps to disable that inner critic so the child in you can come out and play without fear.

Prompts and Exercises

You’ll find a wide range of prompts and exercises in here. The large font means that this book isn’t as packed full of exercises as its size might indicate, but there’s certainly plenty in here to play with.

For example, there’s “pick a letter.” You choose a letter that has “ENERGY” (or one at random) and write a five-minute piece using as many words as you can that begin with that letter. Some prompts provide photos and ask you questions about what’s going on in those photos. Other prompts provide phrases or sentences and ask you to pick one and incorporate it into a quick piece.

Some of the prompts are designed to remind you to think outside the normal lines. One shows a cardboard box and asks what’s inside it–but a brief paragraph beneath reminds you that the box could be big enough to hold a desert or small enough to hold a single molecule.

There isn’t a lot to distinguish the prompts and exercises themselves from those in any other writing book (like Heffron’s “The Writer’s Idea Book” or Rekulak’s “The Writer’s Block”). But the tone of the book itself is certainly more conducive to helping us shed our serious, adult critic-minds and return to a more playful, childlike attitude. This is a handy thing for anyone having trouble tapping into their creative side.

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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