Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


Why You Can Be More Creative With Less

In a previous post we discussed how constraints can help your Creativity reach new heights. Since then we’ve come across a couple of real life examples to illustrate this principle.

Take to specifics like a hammer to a nailNail Down the Specifics

The first is this quote from composer Stephen Sondheim:

“If you ask me to write a song about the ocean, I’m stumped. But if you tell me to write a ballad about a woman in a red dress falling off her stool at three in the morning, I’m inspired.”

This is a brilliant example of how nailing down specifics can explode the situation’s potential. This is why (as an example) the more you know about your characters, the easier they are to write.

If they are wishy-washy, with vague background and nebulous motivations, then there are just too many possibilities. Your Creativity find his/herself stumped, like a rat in a lab experiment, surrounded by doors. Of course we know the cheese/story is behind one of these doors, but instead of starting somewhere and working our way through the options, we sit staring at the possibilities. Sensory overload!

So start choosing specifics, often the wackier the better. Give your character an embarrassing middle name – Goliath, Liverwurst, Gimblebot – and then describe the parent who gave it to him. Discover the food your character absolutely detests – plums, cream cheese, schnitzel – and then explain why. The more details you add, the more possibilities you’ll see.

As you learn and create the specifics of your character, that character will come to life inside your head. You’ll hear their voice, and they’ll take you on a journey.

That surge of inspiration and the glorious surprises which result all come from nailing down specifics. And trust me, details make the story.

Choose the Hard Road Out of Necessity

Our next quote is by Sally Porter, a very talented woman who wears so many hats in the writing and production of her movies that it’s almost impossible to list them all. The following comes from an interview about the movie Yes, which she wrote and directed. (I hasten to add that Jessica’s never seen the movie itself so this is not a review or recommendation, merely a quote.)

Guernica: What made you choose to do the dialogue in iambic pentameter, and—even more astonishing—in rhyme?

Sally Potter: It came out of necessity. The constraint of verse liberated a way of expressing ideas and feelings which are difficult in the different constraint of so-called normal or everyday speech.

There’s something deliciously crazy about writing an entire movie script in iambic pentameter out of necessity.

What constraints are necessary for your project? Remember, it’s the details, the specifics, of your project which make it unique. Of course Creativities love working on ideas, but when we know we’re working on something truly different, something which will capture your unique view of the subject, then we get really excited!

So don’t avoid the hard constraints. Choose them, run with them, and create something extra special.

What constrants have you imposed on your Creativity?

For further reading on this topic, check out the article 3 Reasons Why Having Too Many Materials and Options Stunts Your Creativity at A Big Creative Yes.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art



Are Your Eyes Eating Right?

Dog licks chops and looks longingly at dinnerHave you ever wondered what your Creativity eats? I’ll let you in on the secret.

He/she feeds off your experiences; off the things you interact with or notice as you go about your daily life. And the main source of that food is visual. Yes, your eyes feed your Creativity.

So what interesting morsels are you supplying your Creativity? Are you feeding him/her at all?

Some people are so busy they never let their eyes rest on anything worth ingesting, at least from their Creativity’s point of view. But with a little understanding of your Creativity’s eating habits, you can keep him/her happy and healthy.

Start Eating Right

The first step is to realise your Creativity is relying on you to satisfy his/her needs. So what are you providing?

Are you paying attention to your surroundings? Do you actually take in the sights and people you encounter, or are you so wrapped up in getting from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible that you don’t notice anything else?

You don’t have to go out of your way to find ‘food’ of interest. Look at the passengers you share a bus with. Watch people who walk by. Notice the plants. Read posters. Stare at clouds. Eavesdrop on a nearby conversation. Examine your environment to see what whets your Creativity’s appetite.

How will you know when you’ve hit on something your Creativity wants a bite of? You’ll begin to feel intrigued, curious, excited. You may even have a light bulb moment when the spark of an idea forms. Then you know you’re on the right track.

Provide a Varied Diet

If you just eat the same meal over and over again, life starts to get dull and tasteless, even if the meal used to be your favourite. It’s the same with your Creativity. Once he/she has squeezed all the excitement out of the places you frequent, you need ensure you’re keeping the meals interesting.

Try taking a different route to work, talking to someone you’ve never spoken to before, reading a different book, walking into a strange shop, learning a new subject, travelling to a faraway place, tasting an unexpected dish.

Vary the place, time and mood. Even slight differences can change the whole texture of an experience.

Savour the Flavour

When someone presents you with a beautiful meal, you chew slowly and savour the tastes. When your Creativity is ‘eating,’ the speed with which he/she ‘chews’ is directly proportional to how much attention you invest. If your eyes flit from one thing to the next, your Creativity misses the depth of the experience and ends up with creative gas – and you do not want me to start describing that to you.

So, give your Creativity time to take in the details. Let your eyes, and attention, dwell on each individual experience. Don’t rush. Chewing your food takes time.

Thankfully, China is a country where staring is considered the norm so Jessica uses this cultural quirk to the full. But if you’re in a culture which views staring as impolite, what can you do? Start by practicing your ability to capture detail. You can tell a lot just by a glance. The more you practice this skill, the better you will become. You can then recreate the scene, person and/or object in your Imagination. From there you and your Creativity can stare at it as much as you like.

To keep your Creativity happy and healthy, you need to be feeding him/her a varied and regular diet of interesting experiences. What is your Creativity’s favourite food?

(Mine, in case you were wondering, is subway train rides. The amount of people and conversations crammed into each car is a veritable smorgasbord of new sensations!)

Image credit: by Chance Agrella.


Save Your Creativity from the Deadline Stupor

Thinking and Thumb Chewing

Someone up the hierarchy informs you of a deadline. You must produce by a certain time, or else.

What’s the first thing you do?

If you’re Jessica, the first thing you do is look for something to eat. Deadlines always make her hungry.

Then what?

Then you realise you have no idea what you’re going to produce. What do you do when you have no idea? You turn to your Creativity.

And stare.

I can tell you, as a Creativity, there’s nothing quite so disconcerting has being stared at and willed into producing an idea. I don’t know about your Creativity, but I get self-conscious – and quickly mesmerised by the stare. Everything comes to a halt as we wait for someone to blink. Stupor sets in.

Bad start.

What should you be doing?

Finding an Idea

How can you break the stupor and help your Creativity find an idea? Try some of these tips.


‘I’ve just been given a deadline,’ you say. ‘I’m on the clock. Now’s not the time to play.’

Actually, now’s exactly the time to play. In order for your Creativity to produce the ideas and answers you seek, you have to release the pressure a little and play the game.

Doodle. Talk to your Creativity out loud (in a secluded place if you’re worried about wandering psychiatrists). Roll words and phrases around in your head. Fire questions at him/her. Give your Creativity something to work with.

I’m serious about the doodling. Get yourself a notepad and coloured pens. Or try a whiteboard. Something you can scribble ideas on as they come to you.

Don’t be afraid to pursue weird and wacky trains of thought. Let your Creativity wander through different possibilities. You’re on a treasure hunt. Who knows where the idea is hiding. So loosen up and play.

Nail Down the Specifics

Tell your Creativity exactly what you need. Do you need a story, poem, concept brief, article? What’s the genre? How many words? Who is your audience? What points do you need to cover?

This information gives your Creativity constraints to bounce off.

But limit the demands to only what you need. Exclude ‘wants’ at this stage. If there’s a little leeway on some of these questions, then leave them open-ended. Give your Creativity a little wiggle room. You can add the wants from your list as the project evolves. At this point be accepting of different angles.

Encourage Multiple Ideas

At some point during all this, your Creativity will hopefully come up with an idea. Do not run off with the first thing out of his/her mouth. Breathe in, breathe out, and ask if there are any other ideas. Give your Creativity opportunity to pop a couple more at you. The first idea is not usually the best. So wait around and see what else there is.

Once you’ve got your ideas flying, move on to the next phase.

Working the Idea

Now you need to knuckle down and create. At this point the stupor will threaten to set in again. Great ideas usually require work to bring them to fruition. How can you do that in time to meet your deadline?

Write Yourself a List

Work out what’s involved in making this idea happen. List every task. Perhaps it’s as simple as just sitting down and writing. If so, go do!

Most projects require more preparation. Do you need to research? Do you need to outline? Perhaps you have to learn more about your characters.

What is it you need to do in order to make this idea a reality?

The list will not only provide you with a guide to what needs to be completed, but will also inform your Creativity about what you expect to accomplish. Sometimes your Creativity will get to a list item ahead of you, just because he/she knew it was coming.

Find One Thing You Can Move Forward On

Often the length of the list and the size of the project is just overwhelming. And I can tell you from experience, the more options there are, the more paralysed your Creativity becomes. So what do you do?

Pick one thing, just one, which you can manage today – or at least start on. Find something you can make progress on. Focus on that one thing until you’re done. Then mark it off your list. Your project will become like a game of Mahjong. Each move you make will reveal another move. Slowly, slowly you’ll make progress.

Set Aside Time

Don’t let every deadline result in the same desperate, eye-popping squeeze on your Creativity the night before. Set aside regular time in the days, weeks and/or months leading up to the deadline.

Be kind to your Creativity. Avoid procrastination. Your Creativity works hard for you so repay in kind.

And if you happen to finish a little earlier than your deadline, what’s so bad about that?

Eliminate Distractions

Creativities are usually very easily distracted. If you turn the TV on, or start reading an interesting book, we get caught up in what you’re doing and forget what we’re working on. So while we all need time to replenish our Creative sponges, if you’re working towards a deadline try eliminating the distractions and focusing on what you need to accomplish.

And remember, television or a good book is a great reward for completion.

An Important Consideration

We’ve spoken about how to work towards a deadline, but there is one point you need to keep in mind.

Not all deadlines are worth it. Sometimes you have to say no. Protect your Creativity from unreasonableness – either from your boss, or from your own expectations. If the deadline is too tight, you’re just going to damage your Creativity in the process.

Pick your deadlines, and then work together with your Creativity to make them a reality. One step at a time.

For more ideas on staying creative when facing deadlines, read this post over at Bit Rebels.

How do you generate ideas when facing deadlines?

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


Creative Constraints – Or How to Wall Jump Like Mario

Mario jumping from wall to wallHave you ever played a Super Mario Brothers game? My favourite is Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii in all its delectable 3D planetary madness, but that’s probably beside the point. I bring this to your attention to discuss wall jumps.

A wall jump, for anyone who is unfamiliar with the term, is when you scale to normally unreachable heights by jumping between two conveniently placed walls. This is a skill Jessica has great difficulty mastering, but that’s also probably beside the point.

The point, if I understand where I’m going with this, is: If the walls are too close together, Mario can’t move. If the walls are too far apart, Mario can’t wall jump at all. They have to be just the right distance from each other to make this feat of game magic possible. (Goldilocks would have loved this game.)

What does this have to do with your Creativity?

Placing Creative Constraints

Some people believe freedom is essential for Creativity. They say endless time and boundless possibilities are exactly what’s needed. Well, I have news for you. That may work for some special few, but most Creativities I know would find that kind of freedom paralysing. It would be like Mario stuck walking along an endless green platform with nothing to jump on.

You end up with too many possibilities and yet none at all. Your Creativity blinks at the curvature of your brain and his/her eyes glaze over. He/she continually waddles past idea flowers and interesting walking mushrooms without ever advancing to the next level.

Constraints are essential to get the game started. For instance, knowing whether you need to create a poem, short story, novel synopsis, children’s story or mystery thriller greatly alters the skills, materials and mindset you use.

Work out what you want to achieve. If you need to write, give yourself a word count, a subject, the first line, a character – something which gives your Creativity a wall to jump against.

Yes, as soon as you start nailing down the specifics you cut off access to other things that could have been. But without the wall you’re really holding your Creativity back from the creative heights he/she could achieve. And the good news is there’s always more to explore later. You can start on the other side of the wall in your next project.

But one wall is not enough. For a proper wall jump, you need a second surface.

Placing Deadlines

While most Creativities eye off deadlines as if they were the grim reaper come to snatch their baby, I think we all realise how important deadlines are to the completion of projects. Without deadlines, you would forever tinker with the details, or worse – never get around to starting the project at all. 

We’re not necessarily talking about massive impending deadlines like ‘must have a submission-ready manuscript by the end of next month.’ A deadline can be something as small as ‘I am going to sit at my computer for the next 20 minutes and just keep writing.’

Search out deadlines (like writing contests) or create your own (like inviting your writing friends around at the end of the month to discuss progress on your projects).

Set specific goals with specific completion dates.

Some Creativities will balk at this, but if done right, you’re really giving your Creativity a wonderful opportunity to explore new heights.

Watch Out for Tight Corners

I mentioned earlier that if walls are too close together, Mario can’t move, let alone jump. Likewise, if your constraints and deadlines are unreasonable, then you’ll just paint your Creativity into a corner where he/she will live like a sardine until such time as you realise you’ve lost the game. So continually evaluate the walls you choose, because their effectiveness will vary depending on your Creativity’s experience, skills, preferences and mood.

Why does all of this matter so much? Well, if you’re happy for your Creativity to potter around on ground level fiddling with the mundane, then it’s probably not that important. But if you want to advance your projects and eventually reach the goal (a finished manuscript or just a big shiny gold star) you need to start moving upwards. And the best way to do that is to wall yourself in. Counter intuitive, no?

Have you found this method works?


Save Your Creativity’s Sanity – Write a List

Do you hear voices in your head? Everyone does. You have the voice of your Conscience, the voice of your Inner Critic, the voice of your Fear and, if you’re doing things right, the voice of your Creativity.

But there’s another voice, in fact a chorus of voices, which can drown out all of the above and make it downright impossible to have an internal conversation. These are the voices of your Internal To Do List.

Let me tell you, once these guys get going, your mind can turn into a veritable cacophony very quickly.

“Send that letter to Aunt Phyllis.”

“E-mail boss about yesterday’s meeting.”

“Pick up kids at 3:30.”

“Tonight we’ll have stir fry. Tomorrow spag bog.”

“Buy sugar, milk, apples, peanuts, flour, toothbrush for William, dog food, beef mince.”

“Buy credit for your phone.”

“Pick up kids at 3:30. Don’t forget!”


Soon these items become a chant, constantly resurfacing in your mind. The little ‘To Do Men’ worry you’ll forget something if you don’t hear the list often enough, so they say it over and over and over again.

Meanwhile, you and your Creativity are trying to have a conversation which may just change the total focus of your latest creative project, but he/she can’t finish a sentence without the chorus chanting, “Dog biscuits” and “William’s toothbrush.” And as anyone who has been interupted multiple times while trying to explain their Master Plan knows, this is infuriating.

I’ve tried everything, from gagging the chorus to distracting them with Mexican salsa (the eatable and dancing variety). They chant through it all.

The worst part is, even if I do succeed in shutting them up, half an hour later I’m in big trouble because now the list has been forgotten. It blows my mind that dog biscuits and phone credit are of earth shattering, forehead-slapping importance in your world, but there it is.

So, the end result is: Your Creativity is completely out of options and the only person who can solve this problem is you. But fear not. The solution is so simple.

Write a List

All you need is a pen and paper, although you can use an iPhone app, a computer widget, the palm of your hand, the whiteboard on your wall, the forehead of a spouse…but pen and paper works just fine.

Every time you hear the chorus start to chant a list item – “Cut your toenails before shoe shopping.” – write it down!

The simple act of recording a physical list takes all the stress out of the chorus.  They see their words of wisdom have been heard, they figure that the job of remembering is in your court now, and they pop back into the recesses of your mind to watch World Cup reruns.

What you do with the list is entirely up to you. Most people lose it, and then lament the absence of their chorus. But others find lists work very well. (It’s true. Stephen says!)

So why not give it a go? If it gives you and your Creativity a little more private discussion time, then it’s worth it.


Keeping Your Creativity Entertained

LightbulbContrary to popular opinion, Creativity is not a light bulb.

Sure, she has moments when the light bulb of inspiration appears, but she herself is not the light bulb.

You can’t just switch your Creativity on and off, expecting that each time you press your magic ‘CREATE’ button he/she will reappear as bright as ever. People seem to believe that’s the way we Creativities work, but it’s complete codswallop.

Put the bucket on the other foot for a minute. Imagine if the person you most wanted to please in the whole wide world kept telling you to ‘sit quietly in that cold, dark corner until I call,’ and then went about their life without you. How would you feel? By the time this person gets around to calling you, the solitude has sapped all your spark and you’re feeling less than charitable towards your old idol.

You pickin’ up what I’m layin’ down here?

For Creativity to turn up and help when you call, you really need to make sure Creativity is with you all the time. None of this switching on and off. None of this banishing to the corner stuff. If you want Creativity in your life, switch on and leave on!

But here comes the question: What do you do with Creativity once he/she is permanently switched on?

I’ve heard some people describe their Creativity as disruptive, rude, loud etc. I suppose I can see what they mean, although I’d prefer to use such words as effervescent, fearless and schloopy.

But arguing semantics is not going to change your Creativity’s behaviour or your viewpoint, so I’ll try another way. Let me explain how to live with your Creativity permanently switched on.

Live Creatively

First of all, remember that Creativity isn’t just good for creative writing, painting, inventing, composing. He/she can impact everything from the way you wear your hair to how you plan your time to what you buy at the grocery store. Seriously, the possibilities are endless.

So invite your Creativity’s opinion, even on the mundane aspects of life. Look for moments where your Creativity could have some input. Should you wear the black dress or the light blue? What about the black dress with a pink headband and your silk butterfly scarf tied about your waist?

What if the wife wants to you do some gardening in the middle of your favourite sporting event? Perhaps you can painstakingly weed the azalea bed right next to the lounge room window. Then you get to garden and watch through the glass at the same time. (Important to have beer and remote control with you. And don’t cheer too loud or she’ll begin to wonder how those good-for-nothing pain-in-the-proverbial plants suddenly became worthy of the Mexican Wave.)

There are so many opportunities to use your Creativity every day. When cleaning, cooking, exercising, laughing, crying, learning, working, holidaying…the list can go on and on…but I’ll leave that to your imagination. The important thing is Creativity can have an amazing influence and enrich every aspect of your life.

Another suggestion for living with your Creativity is to carry a notebook with you at all times. When your Creativity is active, he/she is prone to light bulbs of inspiration. If you’re not able to follow up on those ideas right away, make sure you write them down somewhere. This helps you to remember the idea, and shows your Creativity that you take him/her seriously. Prove that you value every idea, and you’ll get a whole lot more of them. (We’ll deal with what to do with too many ideas in another post. At this point, just revel in the output.)

Journaling is also a good method of keeping your Creativity active. Set aside a time every day where you pour your creative ramblings onto the page. Your Creativity will get into a routine of turning up on cue and will be ready with new things to write about. Because we Creativities do like routine. Sometimes. It’s complicated. I’ll post about it later.

Now, while this point is not my favourite, I do understand why it needs to be said. There are those times when you have to distract your Creativity (and have something to distract with). Perhaps during an important business meeting or a special outing or an MRI. Somewhere, sometime when you can’t include your Creativity. At that point, tactfully suggest that he/she pop into the back rooms of your mind somewhere and chill. If this gentle hint doesn’t do the job, then pull out a conundrum, for example: “What do a raven and a writing desk have in common?” Hopefully this will force your Creativity into think mode and give you a little quiet to do whatever it is you need to do.

Don’t be quick to put this step into action though. You may find Creativity is actually useful during business meetings, special outings and MRIs. I believe I was of great help to Jessica during her MRI. (Although, come to think of it you’ll have to ask her if she feels the same way.) Still, if you happen upon a rare occasion where you do need your mental space, that’s my suggestion.

As you look for opportunities to include your Creativity in everyday things, you’ll find his/her influence in your life will grow. When people talk about ‘a creative person’ they mean someone who exudes creativeness. Who walks, talks, eats and sleeps creatively. That may sound overwhelming and unachievable but the truth is anyone can do it– you just have to be brave enough to start. Once you do, you’ll continue to discover new aspects of your life where Creativity can have a input. It’s like pouring molasses. Getting that first little bit out of the tin is hard work, but once it’s going, you can’t stop it until it’s covered everything you own in sticky goodness.

Sound daunting, embarrassing, intense, stressful, impossible?

Don’t worry. Stick around and I’ll walk you through it.

Do you feel the influence of your Creativity in your everyday life? Please comment. We’d love to hear about it.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


Prove Yourself Trustworthy

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


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?


When Procrastination Isn’t Procrastination

I’ve recently been reading this article.

The article made me feel so much better about myself and my methods. I do feel I incubate my ideas. I’m conscious of them brewing in the back of my mind, percolating into something I will eventually put on to paper or into practice.

This harks back to a previous post about the Creativity Sponge. Time is an important part of the creative process, most times a necessary part. While we want our families and workmates to appreciate our need for incubation time, we also need to respect our own need for that time. This means knowing when not to force something, when to go for a walk, when to leave the idea for a week, a month, until another idea collides with it to take the idea from ordinary to inspirational.

Thoughtful Creativeness

I think the term that best describes this is ‘Thoughtful Creativeness’ – that which comes from time and consideration before anything tangible appears on paper.

We often equate Creativity with spontaneity – loud, unpredictable, surprising etc. But how much of this perception is actually the flurry of activity after a lengthy incubation process?

There will always be those moments of instant inspiration, witty responses right on cue and random ramblings of genius that you cannot prepare for. They just pop out. That’s the creative expression we expect, and is the hardest part of Creativity to predict and quantify. But, Thoughtful Creativeness is something better, more special and, if mastered, far more useful.

How often do we hear a person who has written a book, made a movie or written a song say something along the lines of, “The idea began several years ago when some-unusual-event-or-fact intrigued me. It took me several years before I really knew how I wanted to portray it.” That’s incubation.

How You Can Practice Thoughtful Creativeness

You’ve probably already experienced Thoughtful Creativeness. For example, have you ever been working on a project and suddenly have a brilliant idea for a final touch? The idea seems to just ‘come to you’ or ‘pop into your head.’ But really, could you have come up with that idea if you had not put in the effort and preparation which got you to that point? All the thought that came before incubated and nurtured the ‘flash’ of inspiration.

The biggest part of Thoughtful Creativeness is relaxing to the point where you trust both your Creativity and yourself. When you feel that little bud of inspiration forming in your mind, don’t feel like you have to do something with it straight away. Water it. Keep it warm. Shine encouragement on it. Be gentle and allow it to blossom in its own time. Ideas don’t die from nurturing and patience. They get better, they grow, gradually getting to the point where they open up into beautiful and colourful results that others will marvel at.

Have you ever experienced Thoughtful Creativeness? Do you have any tips on how to develop the skill? I’d love to hear your opinions.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

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The Dark Side of Creativity

Lightning streaking across the skyWe’d like to apologize for the delay this week. We’ve got a doozy of an excuse!

On Monday our city experienced a massive storm with hailstones the size of cricket balls, flooding, lightning and cyclonic winds (doesn’t that sound spectacular?). Our house was left without power for almost 24 hours.

Happily, everything’s back up and running. The house suffered minimal water damage and the cars are undented. However, the experience has got us thinking about an interesting subject – how Creativity and Imagination can feed fear.

It’s very common for people to panic in dangerous or scary situations. Your mind races with possibilities, and those possibilities (no matter how remote the chances of them actually happening) scare you even further. I’m sorry to say that your Creativity is partly responsible for this reaction. But I’m here, as a representative of Creativities everywhere, to attempt an explanation of why it happens.

The Magic Question

What is the spark, the catalyst, that starts your Creativity? Well there are a number of things that can spark your Creativity, but often it’s a question: What if?

When you ask this question under relaxed circumstances, it can lead to many fantastic ideas and hours of hilarity. What if pigs could really fly? Where would they land? What if trees grew upside down? What if you crossed an alpaca with a whale shark? What if… Yeah, I love ‘what if’ questions.

But sometimes when you ask this question under stress, your Creativity picks up on this emotion and the questions turn dark. What if my parents have an accident on the way home from work? What if this weird mole turns out to be cancer? What if the wind rips our roof off?

What makes these questions all the more scary is their plausibility. These situations have happened to other people. You see, your Creativity has been doing ‘research.’ He or she remembers previous information where people have accidents, moles turn cancerous and winds damage houses. So in an attempt to be helpful, he or she focuses on real life’ what ifs.’

If your Creativity limited the questions to the ridiculous – What if my parents drove into a mound of purple goo on the way home? What if this mole turned into a sentient being capable of extreme math skills? What if the wind landscaped my garden into a perfect representation of Windsor Palace? – then you wouldn’t be anywhere near as anxious because, lets face it, have you met a mole who can multiply? However, in an attempt to be useful, we Creativities may be a little too zealous in keeping things plausible.

And If You Look Out Your Left Window…

So you’ve got an overactive Imagination and a Creativity who is being too practical for your own good. What can be done?

First of all, please don’t think that your Creativity is necessarily working against you. I’ll admit there are those Creativities out there that take perverse delight in freaking people out. But they’re fewer than we realise. Usually your Creativity is trying to be helpful. The problem is, you’re often asking the wrong questions.

Instead of asking your Creativity ‘What if?’ ‘What is that?’ ‘What might happen next?’ try changing tack. Channel your Creativity’s excitement and helpfulness into more positive areas.

Instead of viewing an event as an ordeal, view it as an adventure. Find aspects you can learn from. Savour any little part of the experience you might find enjoyable. For example, Jessica loves thunderstorms and, needless to say, Monday had thunder and lightning galore. We savoured every flash of lightning and boom of thunder. View these experiences as opportunities to notice new and amazing things. “And now, of you’ll look out your left window you’ll see the whole western horizon illuminated by the wonders of electric discharge.”

I should point out at this point that I’m not encouraging everyone to become blasé about danger and dismiss situations where serious and immediate action must be taken. I’m talking about those occasions where, through the best of intentions, your Creativity is stressing you out. Under those circumstances, try a little redirection. Remember, we want to help. 🙂

How about you? Do you have any thoughts about how Creativity contributes to stress? Or do you have tips about how to redirect your Creativity? Please let us know. 🙂

P.S. If you would like to read more about the subject of fear and the science behind it, take a look at Jeff Wise’s blog Extreme Fear.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art