I’ve lived in my neighborhood for nine months now—we moved in in January. And in that time, I haven’t explored much. I stay indoors, or follow my same old routines—work, grocery store, home, repeat.
But the other day, I needed to mail a few letters and I decided to ride my bike to the post office. I dragged my bike out of the garage, dusted off the spiders and cobwebs, and spent ten minutes pumping air into the flat tires, my lungs wheezing almost as much as the pump itself. Finally, I set off.
And suddenly, everything changed.
I coasted along a new route, wind whipping through my thin sweater. The sky was tinged pink and blue, just nearing dusk. Everything felt new and alive—I smiled at everyone I passed. I stood up on the pedals and savored the freedom of the moment.
Because that’s what I’d found—freedom. I’d forgotten just how much I love riding my bike. And though I was technically on an errand, there were no expectations, no parameters. I pedaled as fast or as slow as I wanted, delighting in each moment.
The next day, as soon as I got home from work, I wheeled my bike out of the garage again. No need to pump up the tires this time. I was off like an arrow, whizzing down the streets of my neighborhood.
I explored like a child, taking turns at random, navigating the grid of streets at will. When I wanted to stop and take a picture of a funny sign, I did. When I wanted to stop in the park to flop down onto the grass, I did.
This wasn’t a workout. This wasn’t an errand, or a task, or a deadline.
This was fun. I felt free in a way I haven’t felt in a while—completely at ease and comfortable with myself. This was the purest form of play, exploring and feeling and appreciating every moment. My old routines were busted open, and I saw my neighborhood in a fresh way, following roads I didn’t even know existed, making new discoveries and connections all the while.
When’s the last time you felt this way while writing?
Lately, my writing practice has been somewhat of a slog. I sit down to write, not with anticipation or excitement, but with fear, obligation. My daily word count has become a chore, completely devoid of play. Writing has become an errand, not a joy-filled jaunt through my neighborhood.
I think it’s time for me to take a look at my process. Am I putting quantity over quality? Am I robbing myself of the opportunity to play and explore? To have fun?
Too often in life, we don’t let ourselves play. Even in creative pursuits, we stifle experimental impulses with swift criticism. In my private sketchbook, I’m too scared to draw something new because I’m afraid it’ll look bad. What kind of an attitude is that, I ask you?! I should be bold and fearless; I should take risks and fail spectacularly. Play is what happens when we know we’re safe, when we know that our risks won’t truly land us in danger. Isn’t that the whole point of play, and fun? The idea that if you fall, you’ll simply brush off your skinned knees and keep pedaling down the street, a grin on your face?
Play is what pushes us onward; the connections and discoveries I make while playing with characters, dialogue, scenes, can ripple outward with astronomical effects. And let’s be honest, beyond that, play makes life worth living—it enlivens our passions, brightens our work, vivifies our vocations.
My bike rides have rekindled a joy for joy in me, a desire for play. And I think it’s time I embrace the same spirit in my writing. I think it’s time I dismantle some of the frameworks I’ve scaffolded around my writing practice—the rigid rules and word counts—and make room for experimenting, deviating, having fun.