Reigniting Your Creativity: Allow Yourself to Wander
How wandering gave a jumpstart to my dormant creativity.
The day was cool and grey with the constant threat of rain. A typical April day in New York. Not the way it had been in my daydreams.
I am currently deep into my second novel and had lost my way. It felt stale. I had lost the passion, not for the story, but for the telling of it. I no longer felt creative. I needed something to reset my soul.
At first I had thought about going upstate, getting a cheap motel room near a favorite river, and alternate between fly fishing and the keyboard. This technique always produces results for me as, without distraction, I can work the story in my head while on the water, go inside and pump out a couple of thousand words, and repeat the cycle for a full day of work.
But like I said, it’s April. And as halcyon as those days were in my head, in reality it would be cold and damp, with the still possible chance of snow. And the trout would be staying near the bottom of the river, grabbing nymphs and larva, not like the warm weather where a hatch brings them to the surface. I have always been one to rush the warm weather.
My wife would be out of town, so with the wisdom that comes from making past mistakes, I decided to take a couple of days off from my day job and create a writing camp at home. With the weekend, I would have four glorious days to live outside of my normal life here in the city and treat the time as if I had acquired an apartment on Airbnb. I would write in the morning, go to lunch, write some more, maybe go for a cocktail, and then dinner. Early to bed, early to rise, and all that.
On the first morning, I met a friend for coffee. I had thought about canceling, but we hadn’t seen each other for a bit, and I figured that if I were visiting New York I would call him up and have coffee anyway, so it still fit within the parameters of writing camp. We had a great discussion and he asked me what I planned to do for the day. “Write a bit, wander a bit, write some more,” I said. “I don’t really have a hard plan for the day.” I could see the flicker of envy in his eyes.
There is Value in Wandering
Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe. — Anatole France
The act of wandering, to walk untethered to any plan or schedule is immensely freeing. Especially if you wander where you live. Because you are in your environs day-in and day-out, things become rote. You miss the small, magical things that you once noticed with joy. You tread the same trails. You see the same things. Wandering is a freeing act for the creative soul.
I did not set out to wander. And maybe that was also a bit of the magic. It was just one of those days where one step leads to another, and then another, and then another. The day was such an effective cure for relighting my creative spark with respect to my WIP, that I have decided to share how it unfolded here. Perhaps to provoke your own day of wandering — whether you feel you need one or not.
Morning at the High Line Hotel
With writing, timing is everything. Being in the right place at the right time.
— John Ridley
After departing my friend I sauntered across town to the High Line hotel. They have a public outdoor courtyard and cafe where I always find inspiration of some form. Part of that stems from the gas lamps that burn all day. How can you look at the dancing flame and not be transported to another time and place? The flames themselves are mini-portals into the realm of fiction.
Today the courtyard was closed due to the weather but the sign invited patrons into the lobby instead. I found a seat in the corner that surveyed the room. Books filled some cases on the wall, and there were three antique typewriters on tables spaced throughout the room. This would do nicely, I thought. I sat down and wrote a few hundred words until hitting a brick wall with some plot logistics that needed to be sorted. I decided that it was a good time to take a stroll to sort said issues. Writing is often done far away from the computer. Thus began my wandering.
Lunch on the High Line
Childhood means simplicity. Look at the world with the child’s eye — it is very beautiful. — Kailash Satyarthi
To be fair, I had earlier decided lunch for the day. One of my favorite Halal guys in the city. If you are a New Yorker you know what I am writing about. In such a concentrated market, each vendor adds their own special touch to their cart offering, and what sets most a part is their red and white sauces. This cart, on the corner of 9th Avenue and 16th street, has fresh ingredients, a killer red sauce, and they place two falafels as a wall between the salad on one side and the rice, lamb, and chicken on the other. It’s glorious.
I found my cart guys a bit early, at 11:30AM, ordered the combo, and took my loot one block west to the High Line to have my lunch under the protective covering that still had views of the Hudson.
As the heat of the last bite lingered on my tongue, I watched as a class of preschoolers were led along the old elevated railroad tracks. The teacher blew a wooden train whistle and asked the children to close their eyes and see if they could see, in their imaginations, what those trains must have been like. The teacher and the children became their own train as they moved along under the overhang. Something bumped up against my creativity. “Hey, are you there?” It asked.
I love the 19th-century idea of the flaneur, the poet wandering through the streets. — Tom Hodgkinson
Belly full, I followed the path that the child train had taken. It was still cool and grey, but not raining. Maybe I should head to the end of the High Line, I thought, and see what I could find. What I found was that it was time to wander.
I descended the stairs to the street below and headed south. I have gone south many different ways in this city. My first thought was to start south via the Hudson River Park, but that seemed raw and uncomfortable. My second was to walk down Hudson, but that has been well worn under my feet. And so, I just continued south along Washington Street, a little-traveled street as it is still a bit industrial. Although the plague of gentrification is pushing at the street from both the east and the west.
Neighborhood spots, bars of which I was unaware, and architecture pulled me deeper south. Everything of interest I explored. Every whim followed. I kept my eyes open for a cafe — I wanted to write for a bit. Unfortunately, I had made my way to the vast expanse of trucking and warehouse wasteland that is the UPS complex. It is an industrial landscape that has all but disappeared from Manhattan. A hold-over from when the riverfront was about commerce and the movement of goods instead of a greenway where New Yorkers can get a brief bit of fresh air, alongside the Westside Highway. *Cough, cough*.
A pedestrian is so out of place in this environment that security guards appeared from each truck entrance to watch the anomaly walk past. At the end of this New York Mad Max territory, I crossed Spring Street and still looking for a place to write for a while, walked by the Ear Inn. Filled with construction and warehouse workers for lunch I decided my destination still lie further south.
I crossed from the West Village into Tribeca dodging vehicles heading to the Holland Tunnel like a human version of the arcade game Frogger and headed down Greenwich Street to the very inviting Kaffe 1668. Surrounded by furry little sheep, I penned a few hundred more words.
An Afternoon Pint (or two)
The writer is a mysterious figure, wandering lonely as a cloud, fired by inspiration, or perhaps a cocktail or two. — Sara Sheridan
Words down, with some new things to mull around, I continued my path south. There was a place that I have wanted to go for a bit of time, Pier A. The former home of the NYFD Marine Unit, it was refurbished into a restaurant and bar that juts out into the harbor, providing amazing views of the water.
This was now a destination, which takes the aimless part out of the definition, but since I came upon the idea through the initial wander, I let the decision stand. As my main character danced in my head, I headed south and west so that I could meander my way through Battery Park City and the Financial Center.
After a brief respite from the rain within the mall that is the World Financial Center, dodging hungry bankers who were foraging for a quick, late, lunch, I found myself back outside at water’s edge, looking at the Statue of Liberty in the distance. I continued along the path, past the Museum of Jewish Heritage, until I was comfortably settled at the bar, overlooking a rainy New York Harbor, with a cold Six Points Bengali Tiger sitting beside my iPad as I quickly edited some of the work from the morning.
As I finished my pint I wasn’t quite ready to leave. I checked my wandering statistics — 16,000 steps. Eight miles. 1,500 words. Another pint was deserved.
A Local Tourist
Paris is a place where, for me, just walking down a street that I’ve never been down before is like going to a movie or something. Just wandering the city is entertainment. — Wes Anderson
My final moment of whimsy for the day came as I was headed for the subway. After 8 miles I wasn’t about to do a return trip. I looked at my watch. It was just before the bottom of the hour. Just enough time to catch the Staten Island Ferry and get a close view of the Statue of Liberty and return to the amazing view of the skyline of lower Manhattan, the East River, and Brooklyn. An incredibly touristy thing to do, it is also one of my favorites. There is something I find romantic about the ferry, probably because I don’t have to take it every day.
I ended the day exhausted.
“Hello? Anyone home?”
“Hey! It’s you, Creativity!” I said. “It’s good to have you back!”
Busting the Creative Damn
The next morning I was up early and out at my favorite cafe to write. My creativity was back. That burning draw to tell the story was again alive. Excitement and energy replaced dread and lethargy. And I think one of the main reasons was my day of wandering. Exploring the world. Following your curiosity in the physical space, allows you and pushes you to do the same in your artistic space. For, after all, what is creativity if not asking the question what if? And then exploring the answer.
May you find your path.