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Don't Mind Me . . . I'm Just Playing in My Sandbox Over Here

I've been thinking a lot lately about what kind of writer I am.

I've known my entire life that I am a writer, but sometimes I lose track of what that actually means. When I was a kid, I wrote stories, illustrated them, and gave them to my family as gifts.

Some of them started off with a list of all the characters and their names. For example, "There were six children. Their names were Peter, Susan, Jonny, Klcena, Paul, and Lucy." I think I did this because I had to organize these new companions I was meeting in my mind.

There was a unique one about Yarlo the yo-yo who stood up to bullies. And an imaginative story that started with the line "I was a little elf before." This one never made it past Chapter 2, but I hung on to it and rediscovered it this morning when I pulled out an old folder full of writing.

I also wrote poems and journaled a ton. They helped me process my emotions and gave me a sense of peace. But I didn't think about it as consciously as that. I think I simply loved to write. I didn't know where the story would go or what I could create. I just wasn't worried about it.

Stack of papers with writing in child's handwriting on an open file folder

Eventually, my creative pursuits were eclipsed with research papers, essays, and legal motions. And then I left the law to explore my own creative writing. I started my own blog, published an award-winning book, and drafted all the copy for my website and marketing efforts.

And that's when something shifted, slowly and surreptitiously. When writing became my career, I unwittingly invited something else into my creative process. I wouldn't exactly call it pressure, but I recently looked around and realized that I was asking my writing to take on a professional air.

It became less about playing around with words for fun and more about turning those words into something influential and serious. For a long time, this idea was in the back of my mind when I sat down to write. Without even realizing it, it was there as I considered whether to focus my efforts on bringing to life another award-winning book or to submit a poem somewhere I could get paid for it.

Basically, I was asking my writing to mean something, to have a purpose. To be big and powerful and all-important, whether because it inspires other people or brings in money.

Colored pencil drawing of jellyfish swimming on a page with writing in a journal

And while there's nothing wrong with any of those goals, I've been realizing lately that this new focus has shifted the internal landscape of my own dance with creativity. When I bring this mentality into my creative process, there's something around me requiring that what I write goes someplace. It makes me think of the end product a lot more than I ever did as a child.

In my writing sessions the past couple of weeks, I realized that this force has simultaneously invited in a bit of perfectionism. It wants to make sure this story is going to make sense and be something worth sharing with the world. That it will "be successful." It demands that I know where this story is going before I commit to the process.

Once I realized this, I immediately began to push back against this idea. I just want to play around with words. To get sucked into creating something out of pure imagination so much that I lose track of time.

Maybe my dance with creativity will lead into a full-fledged novel or perhaps it'll fall apart midway through Chapter 2. Maybe I'll publish it and share it with the world. Or perhaps I'll stick it back in a drawer, only to resurface decades from now when I'm looking for inspiration and a way back to my own creative voice.

Either way, I'm deciding to just have fun with the process. To create simply for the pure joy of it. Not because I need to. Not even because I want to publish another award-winning book. But purely because this is who I am and this is what I love to do.

P.S. If you've made it this far and still remember the title of this blog post, you may be wondering what on earth this has to do with a sandbox. I get it. I've been wondering how that would tie in the whole time I've been writing this too lol.

And here's the truth. When I came up with this title, I had a picture in my head of myself playing in the sandbox when I was about 5 years old. It was in the yard of my dad's house in the Oregon countryside, and it was magical. I mean magical.

This sandbox was where my dad created incredible vinegar and baking soda volcanoes for me that exploded down the sides of sandy mountains I'd built. He showed me new ways of bringing things together to create something utterly new and unexpected.

But the truly magical thing I experienced in this sandbox was when I played there all by myself. I loved playing with tiny cars and trucks, so I would carve windy roads and little towns in the damp sand to drive my toys up and down.

Sometimes I'd bury a car or two and they would disappear forever. My 5-year-old self would dig and dig in the same spot, miles underground, and never find them again. They'd slipped below the surface and disappeared into an entirely different universe. Just like magic.

Now, as an adult, I've pondered whether I could find those cars if I were there today. Surely I wouldn't be able to dig and dig all the way through the center of the earth and end up in China, the way my dad teased me I would? But in the moment, the expanse of sand was so vast and life was so mysterious that it captivated me completely. Where did those cars go??

Today, when I write, I want to be spellbound by the dazzling wonder of the world around me. So that's why you'll find me playing around with words just like I played in that sandbox when I was 5 years old. So don't mind me . . . I'm just playing in my sandbox over here. Perhaps you'd like to do the same?

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