Chaos and Order

by | Jan 31, 2018

By the end of January most of us are either hitting a stride when it comes to moving toward goals or else we’ve abandoned them completely. The latter can leave some of us disillusioned and disoriented, and simply trying to keep our heads above water as the river of life carries us relentlessly forward. Often, we give in to the external momentum of demands and distractions (especially after a month of trials and failures) and our once hope-filled creative goals get washed away.

Perhaps you’re cruising right along with your goals and don’t need a pep talk yet, but for those who do, I want to explore the powers of chaos and order.

Life for most of us seems to swing pendulum-like between chaos and order. And creative people tend to hang on the chaos side of the pendulum.

We usually think of chaos in terms of mess, unruliness, lack of control, disorder and confusion. But chaos is also potential, mystery, inspiration, the unknown, the unformed—it’s the source of creativity.

So it makes sense that creatives lean toward chaos, but creative people especially need to find balance between these poles. We know this intuitively, and when we set goals in the New Year, we’re making a valiant attempt to order the perceived chaos in our lives.

It’s the creative person’s intention to harness the energy of chaos, to dance with it until something can be made of it, and that making requires establishing some kind of order in the process.

Order by itself is usually dry and dull, but it’s necessary for getting anything done (and more is required if you’re also after efficiency). Order is the yang to chaos’s yin. And yet, too much order and we feel tyrannized; too much chaos and we’re adrift in meaningless mayhem. We actually need both.

As writers, the order we aim for most of the time is in service to making space in which the chaos of the creative process can enter. For example, choosing the same time of day to write and the same location to write in sets up the kind of structure that the muse, that harbinger of inspiration, can depend on. Faulkner said, “I write when the spirit moves me, and the spirit moves me everyday.” Because he showed up everyday.

A willingness to set up an orderly schedule for your writing allows you to be wild and loose in the writing itself. If you’re wild and loose in the scheduling process, when you finally sit down, you can end up feeling tremendous pressure to “get something done.” That’s in part because you don’t know when the next writing session will be. But if you know you have an hour today and another hour tomorrow and another the day after that, you can begin to relax enough to enjoy the process of meeting chaos on the page rather than in your daily life. Order serves and contains chaos for the creative person.

Order is also required to finish projects, revise them, and send them out into the world. We stumble terribly when we let chaos into these processes. That’s when the river sweeps us up again. So let’s take Thoreau’s advice here: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”

Putting foundations under creativity can be challenging for writers. So when the New Year comes around we, along with many others, seize the chance invite more order into our seemingly chaotic lives.

Of course, goal setting has always been easy; it’s the follow through that’s hard, because change is hard. Change requires that we first assess the chaos in our own lives (particularly the chaos that is masquerading as order—how many people say they write everyday but actually have multiple tabs open in their browser at the same time?).

When you’re ready to make a change by setting a goal, first try to assess the level of chaos underlying the areas that need attention. Ask yourself why that area of your life is chaotic, and then ask yourself to come up with one way you could bring some order to that area.

For example, if you overeat, make a schedule with set meals and snack times and don’t deviate from the schedule for one week. At the end of the week, ask yourself how you feel. If you want to write but never sit down to it with any regularity, decide on a time of day and a length of time and block it out in your calendar as you would a trip to the dentist or lunch with a friend, and then stick to your appointment for one week. Pay attention to how you feel after a week’s worth of this kind of productivity.

For most creative people, establishing order doesn’t feel good, but the results from living and creating within a structure (of time allotment or word count) end up feeling energizing. That kind of energy can inspire a creative person to value order in a new way, one which allows them to experience the real rewards of turning chaotic energy into creative work.

Chaos will always be whispering from the murky depths, and we want it to, since those whispers provide the good ideas, and we want to stay open to them. But if you want to experience the rewarding results of your creativity in 2018, then build yourself a raft of orderly routines so you can flow with the river without going under.

Invitation: Devote one week to meticulously recording the time you spend writing. Note down which locations you choose and how you feel before, during, and after writing. At the end of the week, assess your levels of chaos and order. Create a plan for the following week that includes a greater effort at order. Stick to the plan! Record how you feel after.


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