Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly

The Road Less Clichéd


At the time of writing this we are on Gulang Yu, a gorgeous little island off the coast of Xiamen in Fujian, China. It’s positively dripping with history and character. The buildings range from Western style to Chinese style and many areas combine the two. We are all becoming very attached to it.

Because it’s a tourist attraction, the locals are used to tourists wandering down back streets and exploring. The picture above was taken by Jessica during one of these explorations. Pretty, ain’t it?

Now Jessica would have told you she was ‘lost,’ but I much prefer to say she was ‘discovering.’

You see, some travellers only ever stay on the big roads, the ones one the map. But those roads are crowded, noisy and they’ve been photographed from every angle. The more interesting places are tucked away – down back alleys and over hills, through the high grass or under trees. Finding one of those places not only gives you a unique experience, but also provides you with the sweet and addictive taste of discovery.

You may have experienced this sensation when travelling, but did you realise you can get the same sweet taste when using your creativeness? Yup, your own noggin can supply your daily dose of discovery.

The Pathways of Your Mind

Have you ever seen a picture of synapses in the brain? They’re like pathways through your mind – and I walk those pathways every day. Like the roads you travel to work or school or the store, some pathways are bigger and quicker than others.

The pathways you use every day, like repetitive tasks and favourite thought patterns, are very wide and fast – so fast you may not even realise you’re using them. Pathways used less often (conversations with friends for example) are slower and sometimes a little harder to find. Then there are the exciting pathways that have never been travelled.

These pathways are more hypothetical. They haven’t been made yet. Like exploring in the jungle, you have to forge your way through, machete and mosquito repellant at the ready. These are the ones where discoveries are made!

Cutting a New Path

Ideas come when you glimpse an unexplored side street within your brain, or push your way into the undergrowth of information to find a new path. Ideas are almost never found in the middle of the big roads you travel all the time. Why? Because you found them long ago. Like dropped chewing gum, they’ve been trampled into the street until they’re no longer sticky. To find new ideas you need to explore.

How? I’m glad you asked.

You need to view each thought as a journey, as a trip down a road. Instead of racing from one thought to the next, slow down and look carefully at where you are going – see the subtleties and unexplored possibilities. Take special note of where thoughts intersect, like junctions connecting perpendicular roads. Are there aspects to these meeting points you haven’t investigated yet?

As you explore new or seldom travelled roads, keep the following points in mind.

Firstly, be ready to detour. Some days you’re in such a hurry to get somewhere that there’s no time to explore. This is not the time to begin cutting a new road. You’re likely to hack right through your precious new discovery in your haste to get to the other side. It’s okay to be in a hurry sometimes, just realise that’s not the time for exploration. Don’t ruin a perfectly good adventure by always checking your watch.

Exploration happens best when there’s time to look around, when you’re not going to become frustrated at getting lost. Like Jessica’s detour the other day, although she was lost, knowing it was okay to take her time meant the experience was very enjoyable, if disorientating.

Second, be prepared to discover anything new, no matter how strange. Sometimes we don’t realise we’ve made a discovery because it isn’t what we were expecting. For example, the first synthetic mauve dye was discovered in 1856 by William Henry Perkin while he was attempting to synthesize quinine (medicine used for treating malaria). Imagine what would have happened if Will had squinted at the purple gloop in his beaker, decided it looked nothing like quinine and dumped it? As it happened, his interest in painting and photography meant he became very excited by his discovery, resulting in the very first synthetic dye. He filed for the patent that very year. Cool, eh?

So when you’re looking for discoveries, pay attention to the unexpected. Cultivate an interest in everything. Examine different things, even those that may not immediately capture your interest. This takes time, but that’s why being ready to detour is so important.

Third, know when to turn back. Every now and then you’ll come across a road which is dangerous or doesn’t actually lead anywhere. Some of these roads you may not want to explore, or you may only want to explore part of them. Decide on a time limit, or warning signs which will tell you when to turn back. Remember, although discovery takes work, it should be something fun or intriguing. If it becomes boring, dangerous or too laborious, perhaps it’s time to come home for teacake and lychees.

With these three points in mind, why not try a side road excursion with your Creativity? We Creativities are wonderful travelling companions when it comes to discovering new pathways through your mind. Don’t be surprised if your Creativity grabs you by the hand and pulls you head first into a detour of intense and epic proportions. Take a deep breath, whoop at the top of your voice and keep your eyes wide open. This is what being creative is all about.

Have you discovered any new sideroads recently?


3 thoughts on “The Road Less Clichéd

  1. Love the Picture! I will but Gulang Yu on my “to see” list.

    I had an experience with my creativity that may or may not belong under this heading.

    Hacking the machete through uncharted Jungle may at times be impossible. You see I have been working on a student assignment in Chinese, trying to fully write it in Chinese (with no translating) I finally recognized the symptoms of severe writers block. You know looking at a blank screen until drops of blood form on your forehead.

    So I did some pacing around the room, some physical activity while mulling it over then sat down and in 15minutes wrote down what I wanted to say in English. The dam had burst!!

    It took me 45 minutes-ish to finish the rough draft in Chinese. So you see the Chinese pathways were not there in my mind and hacking with the machete was doing no good so I went with the scrimage approach. (You know sneaking belly down through the undergrowth until I burst forth at my destination)

    It was every bit as rewarding as coming up with that long sought after conclusion to a difficult chapter.

    Thank You Creativity!!!!!

  2. I’ve been in Nashville for the last week, working. But, I have lots of friends here. And the last few days, a quick lunch has turned into an afternoon of fun. One day it involved driving to new parts of the city to look at lofts and have coffee at a coffeeshop full of students working on Macs. The next day I visited a friend’s office in a suburb and got life insurance quotes. (Go figure!) Today I have a day to stay inside and work, but my spirit is filled with the unexpected fun I had going down those side roads and my work is much easier to finish.

  3. Pingback: Creative Recap « Creativity's Workshop

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