A friend of mine gave me a wonderful present before I left for China. A beautiful black journal with intricate floral patterns. But it was the second part of the present that meant even more.
She also gave me a dark blue, hand stitched cloth pocket with a pink plastic flower to button it closed. Inside the pocket were pieces of blue and purple cardboard, each with an inspirational phrase to be used as a heading for a journal entry. I smile every time I see the gorgeous packet.
I’ve taken the contents out several times, laying out the cardboard pieces and reading each carefully. Then I gently tuck them back into the pocket and button it up.
I had the pouch a whole month before one day I happened to turn it over. There, on the other side of the pocket, was a heart-shaped piece of floral material appliquéd to the other side. I was pleasantly surprised to find yet another instance of my friend’s thoughtful handicraft, and yet thoroughly flabbergasted that I’d used the pocket multiple times without ever seeing it.
This occasion brought a saying to mind. We’re always being told to ‘turn over a new leaf,’ but how often do we remember that old leaves are sometimes just as interesting on the underside?
Discoveries in the Familiar
Having given this more thought, it occurs to me that there are so many opportunities to discover new things in the familiar and ordinary.
Have you ever uncovered a new fact about an old friend? Perhaps you never knew they played the flute, spoke French or taken the Trans-Siberian Railway. Why not ask to look through your friend’s photo albums or old school trophies? A friend of mine once leant me a story she’d written during school. Both myself and my friend made discoveries during that read through which lead to many more writing adventures.
What about the history of where you live? Ever wondered about the name of your street? What did the area look like ten years ago? Twenty years ago? Fifty years ago? I kid you not, there are things to discover about your little corner of the world – no matter where you are. And often those discoveries result in a new appreciation of your surroundings. Can’t move house? Why not move perspective instead?
And how about the words you use every day? Try using an etymology dictionary (for example the Online Etymology Dictionary) to look up common words. I guarantee the results will be surprising. Here are some words to get you started: demonstration, hazard and quarantine. I warn you though, the study of etymology is addictive! If you feel you’ve got a pretty good idea of the origins of words, try playing this game.
Remember the books you used to read and movies you used to watch when you were young? Dust off your personal copies or pop into your local library and find familiar titles. You’ll discover meanings and connections your younger self completely missed.
So, how does this all work in with being creative? Well, Creativity feeds on discovery. The more curious you are, the more fodder you provide. Train yourself to see possibilities everywhere and you’ll never run out of discoveries.
Have you turned over any old leaves lately? I’d love to hear about what you’ve found.
Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art
A little while ago I wrote about building trust in your Creativity, the gist of which was: give your Creativity opportunities to prove she/he can keep you stocked in ideas.
While this is a good concept and all, today I’m here to explain that trust is like a reversible jacket. It has to work both ways. You see, for me to feel confident about creating, I have to trust you.
Put it this way: When you get all excited about an idea, who is the first person you tell? Someone you trust, right? Someone who will nod, smile, perhaps even become excited. Not someone who will take a verbal machine gun and begin blasting holes in the side of your inflatable idea.
My point is: When your Creativity produces an idea, which kind of person are you? Do you get excited and give the idea encouragement to grow? Or do you begin thinking of all the ways it won’t work?
Each time you shoot down an idea, you show your Creativity you are untrustworthy. And who wants to face the firing squad every time they have a fledgling concept?
So, what are some ways you can prove you’re trustworthy?
Don’t Laugh At the Idea
(Unless it’s a joke, in which case laugh hysterically.)
But seriously, often ideas start out a little ridiculous. Or a lot ridiculous. They are usually the best ideas because they have potential to become big. But they’re also the kind that people feel needs to be withered by rational thought. They laugh it down till it is too tiny to grow any further.
If you laugh, scoff or roll your eyes often enough, your Creativity ends up deciding you’re just not the accepting kind and stops showing you ideas. And believe me, once your Creativity has decided you’re that kind of person, it takes a long time to coax another idea out of him/her.
Don’t Show the Idea to Others
Some people feel that as soon as they have an idea they must spring it on the world, or at least show someone who will reveal the idea’s weaknesses and problems.
But ideas very rarely pop into your mind whole. They need time to mature. Time to strengthen. Time to become usable. Time to gestate. Time for you and your Creativity to tinker and improve. Respect that time and don’t bring it into the harsh sunlight too soon.
Do Defend the Idea
Once the idea has begun to form, it’s vulnerable to doubts. Your Inner Critic will want to get in on the act and prove himself ‘useful’ by picking holes in it. Your job is to protect this idea so it can grow.
Recognise that ideas start whacky and often too profound for their own good. That’s part of the process. Provide a haven for them to develop – a place where they can expand and contract in safety until they reach ideal dimensions.
Do Know When to Let the Idea Stand on Its Own
Some people shelter their ideas so well that the idea never sees the light of day. At some point you have to show your Creativity that you will actually do something with this idea. Hours of time and energy have gone into the idea’s conception. If you never use it your Creativity’s Workshop will eventually clog up with stagnant ideas, leaving no room for new ones. And that’s just depressing.
So, recognise that eventually ideas do need to be shown to others and tried out in the real world. Some will work. Some will flop. Some will be stellar nosedives. But at least you tried and gave it a fighting chance.
Proving to your Creativity that you respect what he/she has given you leads to trust on both sides. And that trust is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
What methods do you use to gain your Creativity’s trust?
Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art
Also, if you have a couple of minutes, take a look at a recent post on Tobias Tinker’s new blog Fearless Creativity entitled ‘A Tale of Two Mindsets…Questioning Your Core Beliefs about Creativity.’
Well my month of gallivanting about the Chinese countryside has come to an end. Now I need to knuckle down and get to work. For those of you who are not personally acquainted with me, a little explanation of what the next several months hold is in order.
I currently work as a Technical Writing Consultant, helping companies put together training materials like manuals, PowerPoint slide presentations, handouts etc. Ever since I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming a writer, and I am now, technically, a paid writer. Yippie! The goal of becoming a paid Creative Writer is still in the works, but one step at a time.
The project I am currently working on is nearing a number of crucial deadlines. Most of my colleagues are in China, so I’m setting up camp here for a while to be in closer contact.
I’ve lived in China before so I have some idea of the fun and stresses before me. I also speak a bit of Mandarin Chinese, which comes in handy, although I am still making hysterical faux pas on a regular basis. (For example, I’m notorious for muddling up zhenzhu (pearl) and zhizhu (spider). It doesn’t take too much imagination to envision the complications.)
Tackling the Local Lingo
It is interesting how Creativity comes into play when dealing with a language other than your mother tongue. I intend to write a post at a later date about creative methods for learning languages, so keep on the look out for that one. But one interesting aspect I will discuss now is word choice.
When you speak in your mother tongue, the full range of the language is at your fingertips. The words flow from your mouth like water. When you begin speaking in another language, the words flow like frozen molasses. Each seems to be painstakingly chipped out of the tiny space that is your vocabulary. As your vocabulary grows, you begin making the few words you know work for you in very interesting ways.
For example, don’t know how to say restaurant? Say ‘eat food place.’ Don’t know how to say hand basin? Say ‘wash hands place.’ Don’t know how to say ‘phone credit’? Try ‘add money’ and point meaningfully at your phone. Actually, gestures can be the most creative means of communication. I still don’t know how to say ‘toilet cleaner’ but I’ve managed just fine so far.
Lowering your expectations from ‘always having the perfect word for every situation’ to ‘saying whatever word works to get what you need’ not only relieves the stress of perfectionism, but also reveals the wonders of language. There is very rarely only one way to say something. Finding other, sometimes more descriptive, ways to communicate leads you on fascinating journeys of discovery.
Now I’m not saying I don’t get frustrated, or stuck for words, or stared at blankly by people I’m talking to. I get all of that, and more. I’m talking about those delicious moments where you find a new and creative way to combine words or concepts, bridging the language gap to converse with another human being. Those moments make the complexities of learning a language all worthwhile. We revelled in those moments when we were learning our mother language as children. Why not capture that excitement again?
What about you? Have you discovered the quirks of word choice?
By the way, the photo above is my own taken on Gulang Islet.