Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Learning to call it play

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I’ve been doing a lot of school readings lately and one of the most delightful aspects of school readings is the questions that follow. Most recently, a little voice piped up, “is it exhausting to be an author?” I had to laugh, because a lot of things are exhausting to me -- getting groceries, checking my email, forcing myself to go running with my very keen running partner -- but writing is not exhausting because it is so close to play.

I tend to think of my writing time as split into two. There is the at the computer, typing and thinking time (of which I can’t do more than a couple of hours a day -- if I could ever get a couple of hours a day) and there is the other writing time, which is more commonly known as play.

Steven Heighton, in his excellent Workbook, decries the loss of boredom, of the ability to stare out the window and just muse. It is this loose time where the brain allows itself room to wander. Before I had my daughter, I think I had lost this ability to let my brain play. There are so many distractions for adults, so many things that beep and chirp and otherwise call for our attention to be split in a thousand different directions. So many screens offering the opportunity to be led into entertainment rather than to make up our own.

Here is the cure: follow a toddler around for a morning and leave your phone at home. There is no attention like that of a kid discovering the world. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I’d make big plans for the day (say, walk to the corner store and buy milk) and most often fail to accomplish them. The reason is that a walk that spans three blocks also spans a couple dozen anthills, dandelions, scattered posters, many cracks on the sidewalk, a shiny pebble, four squirrels, grass that can be made into whistles, and more often than not, a ladybug. It is a day’s worth of active play.

I am never more productive than when I have had a good dose of play. How can you write about the world if you don’t look around once in awhile?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Sarah Tsiang

Sarah Tsiang is the author of A Flock of Shoes (Annick Press, 2010), Sweet Devilry (Oolichan Books, 2011), Dogs Don’t Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know (Annick Press, 2011) and Warriors and Wailers: 100 Ancient Chinese Jobs You Might Have Relished or Reviled (Annick Press, 2012). Her latest picture book, Stone Hatchlings, will be released in fall, 2012.

Go to Sarah Tsiang’s Author Page