Tag Archives: creativity

Old-fashioned adventure

I sometimes worry that the current generation of kids don’t get enough imagination-powered play. All too often their games seem to be pre-franchised – acting out roles as mass-marketed characters from TV and film. I don’t see play-acting as the latest superhero or TV character as a bad thing per se – I certainly imagined myself as Aquaman or Luke Skywalker at various times during my imaginary play.

But what seems to be missing is the generic, no-name-brand play where the child is a detective or explorer or racer of their own invention. This kind of play is important because it’s unconstrained. They’re not limited by peers or product awareness telling them “Ben 10 (or Bob the Builder or Barbie…) can’t do that”. They can make their own rules and plot twists.

On the same token, an adventure might mean a theme park ride rather than going exploring without adults. I did lots of dangerous stuff without adults when I was kid – possibly because I lived in country towns and had lots of opportunities to do so. The absence of computers, video recorders and electronic games also made me more inclined to get outside and actively make mischief.

I explored underground drains, sailed a rusty dinghy out into a farmer’s dam (without permission), fossicked around old mines, climbed trees, rode my bike all over town, made hideouts and did lots more… Today, as a city-based parent, I understand the concerns about child safety – but also worry that kids need opportunities to explore and make their own adventures. And learn how to appraise risk.

Anyway, when we visited my wife’s family on the Gold Coast back in March this year there had just been some massive storms. The banks of the river where we sometimes swim were crammed with all sorts of wonderful flotsam and jetsam. People had been building huts and bonfires and various other objects from the loose timber. Working with my kids, we decided to do something a bit different – build a shipwreck that looked like it had been washed ashore years earlier. The picture below shows the result of our exercise in imagination:

Beached wreck

Story-sense and a healthy dose of hope

When Spiderman’s Peter Parker gets an inkling that something villainous is going down, his “spider-sense” tingles. I like to think I have a story-sense that operates in a similar way.

My current manuscript is based on the sensory tinglings that came from staying in a lighthouse keepers’ cottage on Kangaroo Island. I already found the setting incredibly evocative but a visit to a tiny cemetery sealed the deal. There was a story lingering in the air that I couldn’t help but explore.

Perhaps this story-sense is a legacy of my time in journalism, where it’s more commonly referred to as “a nose for news”. Good journalists prosper according to their capacity to glean a story that their competitors are unaware of. As Canberra gallery veteran Laurie Oakes told ABC Radio today, journalists are like police officers; they are never completely off duty. Their nose for news should always be twitching. (It then comes down to personal and professional ethics what they report and what they overlook.)

I love it when my story-sense is triggered as this is usually followed by a surge in curiosity and creativity. The hard yakka of writing comes well after this conceptual moment – when I toil to hone inspiration into an idea that a reader might get excited (and stay excited) about.

Sometimes the story is much bigger than a mere narrative nugget you stumble across. Sometimes the story is so big we all live it. I can’t help but feel yesterday’s US presidential election was one of those moments.

My sense is that the world held its breath yesterday, hoping and praying for an electoral miracle. And we got one. This old planet of ours is gasping for healing and leadership – areas in which the US has been impotent yet arrogantly assertive for several years.

Now the president-elect of the ailing, unpopular superpower is a young man with a Christian mother, Muslim father and an international upbringing. Barack Obama’s charisma is palpable, his speech-making inspirational (plaudits to his writers) and, from a distance, he seems to personify calm, ethical leadership.

Maybe I’m cashing cheques on a story we’re all yet to write but there’s no harm in hoping. The energy yesterday as the world waited for an election result was amazing. So, no matter what your faith, perhaps we should all harness that collective hope again, praying that this amazing story has a happy ending for our planet. The beginning has certainly been fantastic.

Waiting for the muse

Another question I get asked fairly regularly is whether I suffer from writer’s block. As with many questions, there’s no simple answer.

I’ve never suffered from a shortage of creative ideas. Indeed, the ideas sometimes come so thick and fast that if I don’t jot them down quickly they get lost amid the swirl of competing thoughts – paid work, parenting, voluntary work, fitness, finances and so on.

On the other hand, the ideas aren’t always worth keeping. For every gem that comes along, there are probably a dozen that could be filed straight in the bin.

The closest I’ve come to writer’s block is when I am immersed in a story and waiting for a missing piece in the plot puzzle to fall into place. This can be very frustrating. Usually I’ll write around the gaping hole, knowing I’ll need to return and fill it in later – even though its eventual arrival could necessitate substantial rewriting of everything I’ve already done.

The other kind of writer’s blockage is even more insidious (and not restricted to writers). It’s something many of you may know as procrastination – when it suddenly becomes more attractive to hang out the washing, empty the dishwasher, update your iPod, weed the garden or do just about anything other than write.

A while back I read a quote by the uber-successful author Jodi Picoult that explained her thoughts on writer’s block. She said writing is “grunt work” and waiting for the muse is just making excuses. She starts writing at 5.30 am (YUK!) and makes sure she gets something written every day. As she says, you can edit bad writing but you can’t edit a blank page.

As for waiting, I spotted this sign in Kyoto, Japan where something has been lost in translation. Very polite. Very funny.

Wait for a while please
Wait for a while please