Creativity and Corkboards


Imagine that your mind is a corkboard. It’s brand new; you haven’t yet amassed any photographs, receipts, or quotes to affix to it. Which means that right now it is lacking of any pinpricks, thumbtacks, or sticky notes taped to its surface. It is almost smooth to the touch; but if you run your hand over the cork there are small imperfections that snag on your palm where the face of the board is split to allow pins to sink into it. And there is a thin veneer of pine acting as a frame.

It sounds exciting doesn’t it? When someone asks you about your creative cognizance aren’t you just dying to tell them all about your plain brown corkboard that is completely devoid of any imagination or creativity?

…Probably not. But in actual fact so much of our creative impulses are unconsciously developed upon a mental corkboard nailed into the walls of our minds. It sounds obscure doesn’t it? So let me explain.

It goes like this:

You start off with an idea. Often it’s something quite small. Maybe you decide you want to write a book. So you take the idea and pin it on your board. This moment marks the inception of your creative map. From there you start to build upon it. You take a piece of string and stretch it out to a second pin where you begin to fashion your protagonist. A third pin represents the antagonist. A forth exemplifies their conflict, and so on and so forth. As each new idea is tacked against the board, a piece of string reaches out to connect this new thought process to the last, creating an ever growing junction of thread.

Before too long your corkboard is overflowing with pins that represent ideas, plot points, research, characters, historical fact, intellectual and cultural bias, and a myriad of other concepts. As your learning and creative process begins to grow you start pushing thumbtacks into the pine veneer, desperate for more space. Eventually your thoughts outgrow your corkboard and spill across the wall, cover the floors, and in some rare instances, even the goddamn roof.

The pine frame of your board represents the preconceptions and creative limitations that you initially bought into the project. Like all intellectual boundaries, they need to be tested and broken. The pins and strings that stretch out onto the walls and floors of your mind characterize what you have learned through your creative pursuits. These pins are your creative freedom. They are what makes you and your concept both original and great.

It all sounds brilliant. And it is. It really is. As a writer I love creating mind maps and plucking my fingers along the strings stretched across my mind in an effort to breath life into characters and plotlines. But sometimes your mind maps can become convoluted. Strings can tangle or break, or you can find yourself venturing so far from your original concept that you feel more confused than creative. When this happens, all you can do is start to remove pins, coil up your string, and slowly work your way backwards until you eventually stumble back onto the thought pattern that you originally embarked upon.

It can be difficult to destroy your map. Sometimes we creative types can invest so much time in constructing these elaborate artworks of thread and string that it almost feels like you have failed to admit that the ideas are actually holding your imagination at bay. But there is something quite cathartic in clearing off a completed mind map, wiping your corkboard clean and starting over again.

But this process of mind maps, pins, strings, boundaries and starting over needn’t be limited to limited to the creative arts. It can be applied to our every day lives. It already is. We just aren’t consciously aware of this fact. Each and every day we experience new highs and lows, learn new information, forge new friendships, and add to the various corkboards that make up our minds.

We have boards dedicated to our employment; others represent friendships, dreams, likes and dislikes, religious orientation… The list is endless. For many of us we continuously add to these boards, pushing pins into veneers that represent societal, financial, physical or psychological constraints. But we stop there. We never dare extend our aspirations and learning across the threshold of those imposed restraints. Instead we continue to loop strings between an increasingly clustered series of pins and tacks until tangles wreak havoc across our corkboards, knots form, and we become disillusioned with the startling difference between our desires and our realities.

When we reach this level of confusion it can be difficult to remember how we even got here in the first place. A desire to obtain a degree, or fund a community arts project, or even write a book somehow evolves into working an unfulfilling desk job, chasing money to clear debts, and trying to force a square peg into a round hole. But all hope is not lost. Just like the writer mentioned earlier in this post, you can clear your corkboard, refocus and start over again.

Rather than write a typical New year: New me post in which you the reader rolls your eyes as I dictate my hopes and dreams for the coming twelve months, I though it’d try something a little different. Instead I will simply close out this entry with a statement and a challenge. 2015 was a fantastic year that came with both dizzying highs and harrowing lows. But that is now in the past, and the time has come to reset my creative corkboard and start afresh once more.

Right now I have two manuscripts in production (one of which is nearing completion), and this site to attend to. These three projects combined are my first pin. My objective is to continue to grow as a writer and see the sequel to Midas put into print. Where the next twelve months takes me from here is at mystery at this point in time. But with each passing day I will grow and develop and weave strings between newly acquired pins affixed to my board. As always I will continue to pluck at those strings and continue to learn until my dreams can come to life.

My challenge for you, my dear reader is this: reset your own corkboard. Remove all the tangles and knots that have grown and developed over time and start afresh. Create a new starting point as of today and grow and develop from here on out. Work towards your dreams, just like I am. And no matter how far you travel or how much you learn, never lose site of the reason you created a board of memories and experiences in the first place.

Author: Chris Nicholas

Chris Nicholas is an author from Brisbane, Australia. He has published two novels, and is currently working on his third.

58 thoughts on “Creativity and Corkboards”

  1. Hi, I really enjoyed this your write-up. It’s very insightful, and it highlights how we sometimes lose grasp of the things that are of importance to us, mostly because as they say, ‘life happens’ or as a result of a lack of confidence. I started my blog late last year after years of thinking about it. I worried that I would run out of words. Now, I struggle with having to many words 😌. The blog is a starting point to explore the possibilities of what could be added to my cork board. Thanks for sharing.

  2. You know, this IS complicated to swallow. I have a couple of projects, one I’ve been working on over two years, that I am afraid to approach. I don’t know why, but I am. The first two drafts of one are complete and the first draft of another. A lot of time wrapped up in these projects. But really, that doesn’t matter. As long as I’m afraid to write in these works, nothing is getting done. I DO need to change my course, at least for now, and hope the other serious works come back to me.

    On the other hand, my mind is stressed and preoccupied with many situations right now, so perhaps working on these important projects would create huge errors. I need to continue writing, though. I must, because that is all part of the process…. Thank you for bringing this to the forefront of my mind, Chris. I needed a bit of persuasion.

  3. I like your metaphor about the corkboard. Things do get knotted up now and then, and its good to untangle all those threads and start over. I find I’m doing that this year, forgetting about a bunch of “should” projects I had planned and instead start something new that excites me. Thanks for the post.

  4. This is great. I think one of the points you missed is that our minds are comprised of hundreds, thousands, maybe more of these “cork boards” or mind maps and that as they get invariably larger they layer on top of one another, obscuring, and becoming intertwined with each other. Our minds aren’t as pleasantly straightforward as a group of cork boards, though I think it would be nice if they were. Clearing one mental cork board, if you will, might not just reset that area of your life but reveal other maps that had become lost, jumbled or dusty amidst the clutter of our minds. I would suggest that your two manuscripts and this blog don’t constitute a single pin but three individual maps and each of those is comprised of many pins and strings.. and that’s just the beginning.

  5. When we reach this level of confusion it can be difficult to remember how we even got here in the first place.

    – This line is so me at the moment. Thanks, this is a very nice post and I have just recently started to clear of my cork board. It takes time tho.

  6. Thank you for looking into Agnellusmirror and liking what you saw there. As for your cork board: the rules of poetry provide a frame for writing that may seem restricting, but become liberating after a while. Can you set a world record unless you run on a track, swim in a pool, measure your distance or progress? Well, yes you can, but it’s a different discipline, and discipline there must be. Will T

  7. There are many times when I’ve thought about using a mind map for my writing, yet looking at the blank board, I feel more inept than I do when I just get into the thick of my idea and write. Is it a case of not knowing what questions to ask that will produce the pins and strings? The common questions such as, “What is your story about?”, Who are the major characters?, and so forth don’t help. Per contra, the concept of the mind map appeals to me more than all of those outlines, character sketched, and summaries — that preliminary work before the first page is written. Perplexing to say the least.

  8. This is so wonderful. When something is empty there is only potential. There is room for anything. I love this way of thinking. Great post Chris Nicholas.

  9. Beautifully written. I have a chalk board of ideas swarming around in my head as I write this. I have two travel articles waiting to be completed and sent to editors, copy writing for a real estate agent starts tomorrow, my brother-in-law rang today wanting me to help him type up legal documents and I have my blog to maintain (which I love above all else!) I feel a bit over whelmed but at the same time I’m excited and I feel there’s room for all of this. Have a great year Chris and thanks, as always, for your insightful posts.

  10. Fantastic post. The map you’re plotting out in this entry alone is well worth exploring. You have an interesting mind. I wish I knew you. ☺

  11. Such an interesting approach, creative and outside the box (or board). I write out my initial story idea long hand with pen and paper. From there it goes into Excel and the rest happens in the little boxes – talk about frames! It works for me, though. I like the ability to rearrange, add rows and columns, move boxes around like a gigantic puzzle. That said, I really like the freedom of clearing the corkboard of daily life and starting over. A wonderful reframing 🙂

    1. The idea of Excel intrigues me. I don’t believe I have ever met another writer who does this. However if it works for you then why not? That’s the beautiful thing about what we do; no two writers, nor their methods are ever identical.

      1. I ran into one other person who uses Excel. I nearly fell out of my recliner 🙂 What I love about it is the flexibility. I know that sounds insane, but… Yes, I love how we all have different styles!

  12. I love this! Purging is a regular part of my life and I’m just getting to a point where I can let go of creative ideas when they no longer serve me. Looking at my life, wiping the slate clean, and pursuing more focused goals is what’s driving me this year as well. Good luck to you!

  13. This was a fantastic read and really made me stop and ponder. This sums up perfectly how I feel about this year. It’s a year of new beginnings and finding myself — the positive and negative.

  14. Absolutely loved your perspective on being ‘human’, setting goals, and re-focusing-never losing site of your goals. On the other side of darkness is light. Corkboard! I like it.

  15. Hi Chris! I love how you took the inner workings of our minds along with our creative drives and assembled it all in this insightful and fun package of corkboards! It was fun to follow you describe the process of strings and pins, stretching and crossing and intertwining! And then when situations necessitated it, the pulling out of pins and papers and strings, to clear the corkboard and start anew. Thank you so much for this fun romp into our creative minds. 🙂

  16. Thank you for reading from my blog. I enjoy this writing on creativity and the corkboard. It’s tangible as well as figurative. Tangible is more of a challenge to have in a digital age. Noting the sub-title of your blog, I may tell you that I’m posting a poem about life with a wolf. Based on something I saw recently on PBS about “Willow.” Again, thank you.

  17. Great post. The comparison to a corkboard is spot on. I find that we all can get lost in the creative “weaving” of our stories, plans and forget or are fearful of beginning to put thought to page. Or step back and become overwhelmed by the tasks laid out before us. This goes for so many of the projects i have on the go. I like the idea of starting with a clean slate at it were. Thanks!

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