What can kayaking teach you about creativity?
My favorite time to kayak is early on a warm summer morning when the lake is crystal clear and the water is as calm and reflective as a newly polished mirror. As I skim the lake in virtual silence, I am accompanied only by ducks paddling along with their tiny new ducklings, loons teaching their young one to dive for fish, dragonflies darting here and there, or an eagle circling overhead. A light breeze wanders through the trees. A loon screeches protectively if the eagle swoops in too close. My paddle swishes softly as it gently breaks the water.
The fresh morning air clears my mind. My own reflections may be as broad as life or as narrow as the coming day. As in meditation, my thoughts come and go, disappearing with the ripples behind my boat.
My muscles flex and warm with the rising sun. I’ve learned that a slow and steady rhythm gets me where I’m going faster than digging into the water in an attempt to rush the journey. The harder you paddle, the more crooked your path, and you actually slow down. It’s a little like trying to “kill the ball” when you golf. A smooth even swing with follow-through is most effective for a long, straight shot.
I’ve also discovered that if you pick a point on the horizon or the far edge of the lake and point the nose of your kayak at it, you make the most efficient progress. Look ahead to your goal and don’t worry about how far you’ve come.
Gliding over the lake, I marvel that my thoughts turn to the creative process. When I begin a painting, I have a rough idea of my objective, which I may sketch lightly on my canvas as a starting point. However, I also know that my outcome may change. As the painting evolves, I can move a tree, paint over an area where the color isn’t working, add eye-stoppers to enhance the composition, or I can try new techniques to achieve a special texture.
On my journey around the lake, I may swerve around a diving raft or a wharf, I may pause to appreciate the scenery, or I may alter my path to cross the lake to see if the turtles are sunning themselves on a rock.
Whatever happens in either process, I can’t force my movements; I apply easy measured strokes of paint or rhythmic strokes of my paddle. Every stroke is important to the goal. It might be a bit of highlight or a line of shadow.
You plan your route, but remain flexible for any obstacle or decision that may arise. You choose your colors, and carefully place the paint. You consider such things as the reflections of the trees and clouds, the warmth of the sunshine, and the coolness of the shadows.
I can change course or veer around stumps and buoys, but the point on the horizon is always foremost in my mind. Each kayak ride around the lake is slightly different. Today I’d travel clockwise; tomorrow, I might travel straight down the middle to the other end and wind my way back by hugging the shoreline.
A writer may very well go through the same process. She might have a goal of a five-hundred word short story. She could plan with an outline or she might simply start writing and see where her character takes her. One sentence leads to the next in a smooth rhythm of storytelling, tension building to the climax, followed by the arrival home. She might stray off course, but at some point, she’ll steer herself back toward her goal. She might even discover something completely different from the path the originally intended.
Creativity is a process of discovery. Although you often don’t know where your journey will lead, you will, eventually, with deliberate strokes and the occasional correction, arrive at your destination.
As I make the final approach to home, the wind has begun to raise soft ripples across the water. My polished mirror has morphed into sparkling waves of blue and silver. The reflections are gone, but my but my thoughts remain. I pull my boat up onto the beach and stretch my arms and shoulders. I am energized with ideas waiting to be transformed into pictures or words. I'm inspired. I'm ready for a day of discovery, ready to flex my creative muscles.