Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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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?


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Off Travelling

I am sitting in my lovely serviced apartment somewhere in the heart of Beijing wondering what the day will bring. My travels are just starting, and this means my blog posts may be a little sporadic over the next month or two. 

I’ve got a couple of posts in various stages of production. To whet your appetite I’ll let you in on a couple of future post ideas.

  • Are you a procrastinator or an incubator? A couple of weeks back I came across a wonderfully liberating article that I’d like to share with you. It may just change the way you view yourself. I know it’s done wonders for me!
  • We’ve discussed how we need to build our trust in our Creativities. But did you realise that your Creativity also needs to build trust in you? Creativity will explain this in more detail soon. Needless to say it’s a subject she is passionate about.

There are plenty more ideas floating around in my noggin, but I’ll keep those a surprise (just in case they don’t come to fruition). I’ll also be telling you about the creative things I see on my journey. The Chinese are creative masters when it comes to practical ways to make things work. I’ll keep my eyes peeled and my camera handy to capture examples for you.

Now comes the bad news. Some websites are not accessible in China. Unfortunately, WordPress is one of those sites. This means I can’t post articles or comments. But do not despair! I have a backup plan. This article has been posted by my friend Evan, even though it has my name at the top. He will be looking after my blog while I am away. Let’s give him a big round of applause! Yay! Woohoo! Etc. Thanks Evan! It’ll take Evan a little while to learn the ropes so please be patient.

I won’t be able to reply to your individual comments, but please keep commenting. I can still read them because they will come through my inbox. Evan may be able to post comments for me from time to time, but we’ll have to see.

Well, I’d better head off on my shopping trip. I need to find brandy and washing powder. I love travelling, don’t you?

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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How I Ruined a Perfectly Good Pen in the Shower, or The Creativity Sponge

A sponge and bucket surrounded by bubbles.Tivity says I’m being too informative and not entertaining enough. So, I shall attempt to rectify this by explaining how I ruined a perfectly good pen in the shower.

I have long hair, and it takes me ages to wash. And usually, during hair washing, I come up with some of my best ideas. Which is really annoying. Why? Because I have no access to pen and paper. Thinking about it, one could probably scrawl something on the mist covered glass of the shower, but I don’t think that’s the most reliable means of preserving genius.

My method for idea preservation is repeating the idea to myself over and over until I’m dry and can find writing implements. However, on the day in question, I got distracted; probably by shampoo in the eye or someone turning the dishwasher on and instantly relieving me of the hot water.

And so this is why I found myself some fifteen minutes later, fully clothed, sitting on the shower stool with pen and paper trying to mentally recreate the moment I had my idea. That’s also the point where I dropped the pen and discovered ball point down on tiles is not healthy.

(Now do you understand why I’m the informative one and Creativity’s the story-teller?)

This seemingly random story does have a purpose. I get my best ideas and connect with my Creativity the strongest when I’m in the shower. I have a relative who had the idea for a brilliant invention while on the toilet. I have two closer family members who get ideas walking from their desk to the toilet or the water fountain.

What do all these places have in common, apart from the obvious ablution factor?

Notice they are not the desk, or in front of the computer, or while staring at a blank piece of paper, or while being stared at by a boss or teacher or mother. They are alone time. Stress free time. Time when no one is expecting you to fix the situation, to find the solution, to solve the unsolvable. And that’s the time when you get the flash of inspiration.

And this brings me to one of my favourite quotes of all time:

“Your most brilliant ideas come in a flash, but the flash comes only after a lot of hard work. Nobody gets a big idea when he is not relaxed, and nobody gets a big idea when he is relaxed all the time.” – Edward Blakeslee

Why Is It So?

Imagine, for a moment, your Creativity is a sponge. (Tiv says she’s a purple sponge with green polka dots. I’ll leave you to erase that disturbing image from your mind on your own. I’m stuck with it.) Now imagine you are lowering your Creativity sponge into a bucket of special idea-inducing water. She soaks it up with gusto. Now, you pull your sponge out of the bucket and squeeze. Lovely ideas, concepts, jokes, random hilarity etc. drip everywhere. Life is good.

Next, without releasing your hand, stick the sponge back in the bucket. Pull the sponge out and squeeze again. Notice that far less creative goodness comes out this time?

If you’re holding the sponge tightly, no matter how much water you immerse it in, the sponge won’t soak it up – and therefore will not have anything to give you when you squeeze.

Where Am I Going With This?

When you need an idea, you squeeze your Creativity. She bursts forth with all the amazing brilliance you know and love. However, as you become more stressed you’ll notice her productivity begins to drop. You’re squeezing her for ideas, but she’s got nothing left to give. That’s what the dyspeptic haddock look is telling you. You need to let go, give her some breathing room and an opportunity to absorb more idea juice.

How long does that take? It really depends on the Creativity, and the problem. Sometimes it takes minutes. Sometimes days. But relaxing and providing Creativity with breathing room is a very important part of the creative process. Do not rush it, and do not squeeze too early. Be prepared to relax. This is not slacking off! It is giving your Creativity sponge time to refresh. And it is just as important, if not more so, than the squeezing step.

(Note to parents, teachers, friends, employers: If you happen to see your child, student, friend or employee staring into space, or walking aimlessly around when they should be working on a problem, resist the urge to shake them back to reality and force them into a ‘working’ frame of mind. They are most probably communing with their inner sponge…er…Creativity, whether they consciously realise it or not. At times, it’s that little moment of blankness, of daydream, that provides the inspiration for what they’re about to do. Not always, but sometimes. So give them the benefit of the doubt, at least once, and see what happens. You might get to watch that wonderful moment where Creativity sparks and ideas are born.)

What about you? Where or when do you get your brilliant flashes? Please share. We’d love to know.


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The Need for Creativity

An idea light globe masquerading as a hot air balloonWe use creativity every day. We use it when we run out of sugar, and decide to try honey in our tea. We use it when the freeway is blocked and we try an alternate route to work. We use it when we realise the stapler is as good a paperweight as the Italian snow globe the mother-in-law gave us, which we’ve just broken. Creativity also comes in to play as we try to figure out how we’re going to explain it to her.

Even those of us who consider ourselves less than creative – drink our tea without sugar, dutifully sit in traffic, and never use expensive gifts as paperweights – still use our creativity to get through life.

But many of us believe: There are creative people, and then there’s me. I’m just not creative.

I’ll let you in on a secret. All of us have creativity inside us. It’s how we protect and nurture it that makes the difference between those who are often described as ‘creative’ and those who drink unsugared tea.

“So?” says you. “I’ve managed just fine up until now. Why does it matter?”

Taking a creative approach to work, school, learning and life in general will not only help you stand out from the crowd, but enjoy things so much more.

For example:

  • At work, what distinguishes you from the new computer software that can do your job in half the time?
  • At school, what is the difference between your essay and the 30 other essays on the teacher’s desk?
  • At home, why does the discovery of long lost fabric fill you with excitement?

The answer to all of these questions should be: Your creative approach.

Developing your creative ability allows you to see possibilities in all sorts of situations. It shows your boss you’re a valuable member of the team. It provides a refreshing change to the teacher who reads your essay. It motivates you to make new curtains, a new dress, a new apron, a coat for the dog, a rag doll for your daughter…the list goes on.

“Okay,” you say. “But how does one become more creative?”

I’m glad you asked! At least I hope you asked. My mindreading skills are not exactly legendary. I work mainly on mind-assuming skills.

There are many books, magazines, blogs etc. which deal with creativity and how to develop it. All of them have merit. However, I’d like to introduce you to a different way of looking at creativity. Most methods of developing creativity involve steps, flow charts, circular diagrams, intensive exercises etc. All those have their place. But this blog has a different purpose. I’d like to show you how to get to know her.

Yes, I do know I used the word ‘her.’ Your Creativity may be a boy, but mine is most definitely a girl. A talkative, excitable girl with ridiculous…I mean interesting dress sense and a fascinating workshop.

Ah, now the title all makes sense. Yes, I would like to invite you into my Creativity’s workshop (that is the workshop belonging to Creativity) and demonstrate how you can become friends with your inner Creativity.

Now before you scream, “weird!” and leave as quickly as possible, please give the idea a moment to settle in your mind. After all, most of us are used to that little disembodied voice in our head known as our conscience, and we’re often very comfortable to think of it almost as a separate entity. Well why not try the idea of viewing your Creativity as friend inside your head – a friendship which could lead to many enjoyable and hysterical adventures.

This blog will show how this relationship works (and sometimes doesn’t work) from a ‘normal’ person’s point of view (me) and from Creativity’s point of view. I mentioned she’s talkative. You’ll see for yourself very soon.

I realise this approach is unconventional, but that’s Creativity in general. If you embrace the weird and wacky, life becomes far more interesting…

And on that note, I have nothing else to say except welcome to my blog and please leave a comment.