The Dichotomy of Creativity and Order

From Writer Unboxed:

Earlier this week, my massage therapist called to remind me that we had an appointment that started…five minutes ago. Rushing in, hair askew, I apologized, and admitted that I used to have a lot more trouble with things like appointments before the iPhone was invented. It usually reminds me, twice, but we changed the time and I forgot to add the alerts, and…

She gently interrupted my whittering. “You’re just creative. That’s how it is.”

As artists we’re often forgiven for being scattered, losing things, forgetting commitments, and for good reason. It’s not laziness or lack of respect, it’s just that highly creative people are often lost in another world, with only a tenuous connection to this one, where the physical world of time and space and money and other humans exist.

But I have to tell you, I hate being late. I hate missing appointments. I hate feeling like the world is full of wind, knocking me around at its whim. I dislike clutter and mess. I hate to have nothing to cook for dinner so that I’m eating frozen macaroni and cheese for the third time in a week.

Left to my own highly creative, scattered mind, that would be the constant state of things. In fact, it was always the state of my life as a young woman and young mother. Things were often forgotten, or insanely messy, or I lost my keys or forgot appointments or we ate crappy meals because I forgot to plan.

It made me feel like a failure. Why couldn’t I juggle the world the way other people did, like my sisters and my friends?

The secret is so simple. Planning and routines. Good habits. I hate to sound like a self-help cheering squad, but honestly, I am a die-hard planner these days, and it goes along nicely with my diarist side. I can plan and then check things off to the satisfaction of the diarist who wants to know exactly what we’re doing with our days.

Learning to plan started when I began to write novels under deadline. At first, sometimes those deadlines were insanely tight—three books a year while running a household of elementary school children and making a budget based on advances work. I had to know what and when and where I was working, where I would be at a given time, and to do that, I made calendars with color coding.

It didn’t work that well.

I tried several systems. The calendar. There was a thing called Sidetracked Home Executives that used a file box with color-coded cards divided into daily, weekly, etc tasks that helped me stay on top of things for awhile, but it fell apart, too. Kids took priority, then work, then high nutrition over food I could fix in 10 minutes because I forgot to thaw anything. (Pre-microwave, young friends.)

Over time, I tried and discarded dozens of systems. And then came two life-transforming tools: the iPhone and the bullet journal.

I love the bullet journal. Planning, it turns out, is a deeply satisfying activity if you bring some color and systems into it. Everyone uses the BUJO differently. I’m not in the superfancy camp of little boxes to check off or special divisions for every one of my goals (though, you go if that works for you), but I do plan a lot. The overview of the year; two weeks spreads where I note appointments and loosely plan meals.

I create plans for writing, of course. This is the one area where I use boxes to color in for every thousand words of the work-in-progress. I also keep a log of what I write each day. (See Rachel Aaron’s post on 2k to 10K, which I’m sure I’ve talked about before.)

The iPhone is the big thing, however. I have created lists for shopping, grocery, Costco, others, and because you can train Siri to add things, I don’t have to stop and type something. I can just say, “Siri, add eggs to my grocery list,” or “add reminder to do laundry on Tuesday at 10 am” and the robot in my pocket does it.

She will also remind me that I have an appointment if I add it properly, and despite my recent lapse, I don’t miss many anymore.

Systems create habits. I like to have things happen at the same time, same day of the week, as much as humanly possible. Second Tuesday, 2 pm, massage. Fourth Tuesday, 2 pm, cleaners.

This goes to watering plants, Thursday morning. To making a grocery list, Sunday afternoon along with looking at the BUJO and weekly plan, and planning meals that work with this week’s tasks. Going to the farmer’s market, Friday morning.

I know, I know. All of you out there who don’t suffer this brain chaos are thinking, “Duh!” But for those of us who don’t have your gift, planning and habits are a godsend.

What is the connection to my creativity? It’s about making space for the writing (and the painting, which is another post). If I’m not backtracking to the grocery store for the forgotten butter, or rescheduling a missed appointment, or using up my creativity tring to think of what to cook for dinner, I can write more freely. External order creates space for wild internal creativity.

How does that work in reality?

This morning, I’ve been planning my upcoming year. I finished the first round of my book for next year and need to get moving on the next one. I’ll do revisions on WIP this fall, and I still have some visitors coming in August.

There’s also a side project that calling my name very insistently, and I want to give it some space.

The only way to accomplish those goals is to be real with the amount of time I actually have. How much time will I need to revise the book? Not sure, but at least a month or two. Do I know what the next book is? It’s between two, and I have to decide which one goes first.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG has discovered that he can have too many systems. At this point in his life, PG is reconsidering how many/how few systems will handle what he needs to/should do during a day or week. He’s not certain if he’s ready to tackle a month yet.

2 thoughts on “The Dichotomy of Creativity and Order”

  1. I’m a expert dabbler in systems like this, but they all end up falling apart at the data entry point.

    What scares me more, however, is age. Chemo a couple of years ago gave me an advance view of what that’s going to be like — it was quite a struggle just to remember (or re-learn) how my various systems and tech-assists actually worked. Though recovered now, I take that as a serious warning — anything I can to do simplify my elaborate how-to tech systems is now a high priority, since life is a one-way ratchet — nobody’s gettin’ outta here alive.

  2. Years ago, a business acquaintance I knew suggested the Franklin Covey system. I’ve used it ever since. There was a time period when I was traveling a lot, and got out of the habit, but I snapped back to adherence when Covid hit.
    That seems funny, as most people found they had LOTS of time during Covid.
    But, just HAVING the time doesn’t mean that you’ll use it well. For me, that use of the Franklin – coupled with setting some time-sensitive alarms on my phone in Alexa – made all the difference.
    It also helps me keep track of progress with long-term goals.
    It’s not for everyone, but probably worth taking a look at.

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