I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I’m walking through life on a narrow path between towering mountains of dirty dishes and clothes, unpaid bills, messy floors and to-do lists longer than the Amazon River. Plus, there’s the ever-present odor of two big dogs and two on-the-go kids following me like Pigpen’s cloud. This leads to my second in a series of four writing fears—how can I maintain creativity amidst chaos?
Break it “Write” Down: Two Challenges to Maintaining Creativity Amidst Chaos
Creativity must be molded like a piece of clay into something beautiful. You can’t just plop it out on the table and expect others to see the beauty you find in your imagination.
I considered two big issues to maintaining a mindset of creativity amidst my life’s chaos.
First off, anyone who writes or paints or does something creative knows that those tasks require an immersion in the project. Because of my crazy season of life, I have to work in time blocks to get everything done, and I snag additional spare time whenever possible to write. For a long time I really struggled with this. Immersing myself in a task as detailed as creating characters and scenes in 15-minute increments isn’t my ideal plan.
Second, there’s the fact that not everything I do in a day falls in the creativity column. My mindset is totally different when I’m teaching school, writing a client’s blog post, lesson planning, editing other’s writing, writing my own posts, planning an organization’s calendar and events, updating client contracts, revising an organization’s policies and procedures, building web content or writing fiction. Switching back and forth amongst these activities throughout the day used to frustrate me to no end. As a result, my productivity was pitiful and I was a mess. (Okay, I’m still a mess, but maybe not in the same way.)
I suppose I finally accepted my fate of never having a simpler day where I can focus on one task for hours. In so doing, I realized I better find a way to harness creativity amidst chaos!
When our desire to achieve a dream outweighs our intimidation by the work it will require, that’s when anything is possible.
This led me to three steps that work for me: focus, flexibility, fixation.
Break it “Write” Down: Focus
With discipline and determination, I have trained myself to zone in all my attention to the current task at hand. Well, as much as possible in a house with the afore-mentioned smelly dogs and kids … and cat, who isn’t smelly and works quite hard to keep me on task. Except when he’s standing on my keyboard, blocking my view of the screen. Or sprawling out in my desk chair so I have to squish and squeeze myself in at an awkward angle, which may have something to do with my back pain.
Anyway, I digress.
Each morning I review that day’s to dos. This gets my mind set and prepared for the day ahead. I plan when I will do each task on my list and set out mental time blocks. This is part of a daily morning routine I began in January.
Everything I have to do goes on a carefully planned calendar. Every few weeks, I plan ahead for the upcoming two weeks to month. I add items as they pop up and adjust things as needed, but—for the most part—if it’s not on that day’s list, it doesn’t get done. That way I stay focused on one day at a time, one task at a time.
Now, if I have extra time, I will pull a task from later in the week and get myself ahead. Or, I will take advantage of an unexpected writing session.
As the day goes, I take down my list one item at a time and give each my focus before moving on.
Break it “Write” Down: Flexibility
I realize the way I wrote about focus makes it sound like my days simply float from one check mark to the next and each task gets all the time it needs from start to finish.
I have also had to embrace flexibility. This is something parents start to learn with the second kid, so I had a leg up here. Also, my husband has never had a typical 8-5 job; it’s always fluctuated day to day.
By nature, I love schedules and loathe uncertainty and change. By the reality of my life, I’ve accepted that I must be extremely flexible.
In the morning, as I sip my coffee and envision the day ahead, I note any longer jobs that may need to be split over a few time blocks. I plan how to break them up and do my best to prepare for unexpected hiccups in my day—a kid takes four times longer than they should with math, my husband’s work schedule changes, a friend gets stranded and needs a ride or the kids’ chess club gets rescheduled.
Life constantly changes, and we just have to roll with it. (Easier said than done for a habit-making, schedule-loving person like me!)
To give you an example of being flexible, let me tell you what all I’ve done since beginning this post. Ready? Talked with the chess club instructor. Helped kids set up chess boards. Answered multiple texts regarding an upcoming event for the girls’ organization I lead. Took two phone calls. Played a chess game against a very bright young 13-year-old. Cleaned up after the club. Drove home. Checked emails and social media. Herded kids outside—and inside—and outside—and out of the garden beds—and inside. Cleaned up two muddy dogs who ran through the house. Oversaw a water spill cleanup in a bedroom where something made of foam had also been chewed to pieces and scattered all around. Checked my meatloaf recipe to confirm what time I have to start supper. Updated next week’s school assignment list with our first botany lesson.
And, I have a whole other point to get out of my head!
So, I focus in the moment on my task at hand, but I open myself to flexibility for the interruptions that will come and for the broken time blocks in which I get to work.
Of course, when I plan my schedule, I schedule writing my blog posts and not editing clients’ work during these moments I know will be madness!
Break it “Write” Down: Fixation
Part of the reason for my daily morning routine is to prepare myself mentally for all that lies in store. Another part is to awaken my creativity and set it up as a central point of fixation in my mind. One of many great ways to improve our own writing is to copy the works of the great writers.
Each morning I copy a paragraph of The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. If you’ve spent more than a click or two around my site, you know he’s my favorite author of all time. No one else even comes close.
As I copy the words he penned long ago about the Valar and Maiar and Men and Elves in this world he created—Middle-earth—with creatures of his design, each speaking languages he formulated, my creative neurons rev up and keep rolling throughout the day. So, as I fold laundry or make sandwiches or wipe muddy paws, I take that creativity amidst the chaos and use it to think through my own tales, settings, plots and characters.
With that burner always lit, I find it much easier to crank out 100, 500, 1000 or more words when I do snatch some extra writing time. I hope you’ll join me next week as I examine my third writing fear—world-building!
What about you? How do you release your own creativity? And, how do you maintain a spirit of creativity amidst chaos?