Working in Chaos
This week for me is packed with interviews, getting the word out for The Lion’s Gate. Looking at my calendar I see block after block of twenty minutes, thirty minutes marked down for appointments.
How will I get any work done?
1. I’m gonna work in the cracks.
I’ll have to find intervals. There won’t be many because what time isn’t taken up with book promotion will be devoured by personal stuff, family obligations, etc. But still there will be cracks. I tell myself, “Steve, by all rights, you should accomplish absolutely NOTHING this week. So even one page, even one paragraph is gravy. Steal it. See if you can make something out of nothing this week.”
That’s my attitude. I’m gonna try to make it a game.
2. I will only think big.
No “mouse medicine” this week. No fine-tuning, no crawling over typed lines touching every word with my whiskers like a mouse. This week will be eagle medicine. The view from high, high in the sky.
When I do get forty-five minutes or an hour, I will sit down and blast out anything that comes to me. I’ll try to keep the ideas big and risky. I’ll do stuff that I might hesitate to take on during a normal week. I won’t self-censor. And I certainly won’t read anything over. My expectations will be low, low, low. I’ll be ready, when I read this week’s stuff ten days from now, to junk all of it and not blame myself.
Who knows? Something unexpected might pop out.
3. I will not work “in sequence.”
If I’m up to Chapter X in the project I’m working on, I won’t try to do Chapter X+1. Instead I’ll ask myself, “What’s missing, missing, missing?” I won’t have enough time this week to sit down and really get a rhythm going. The best I can hope for is to snatch something out of the air.
That’s okay. Sometimes what you grab on the fly can be pretty good. Sometimes it fits into an empty place you never even knew you had.
4. I’ll remember that chaos can be healthy.
A few years ago I had surgery and came home from the hospital with two different infections. I will spare you the details, except to say that I had to work standing up, naked from the waist down. This went on for about five weeks. Bottom line: I did some great work in my T-shirt and flip-flops.
The Muse has a weird sense of humor. Sometimes she likes chaos. She gives you stuff when you least expect it.
5. Chaos is a permanent condition.
This coming week for me will be particularly chaotic. But how is that different from any other week? If I were a single Mom, OMG, chaos would be my life. If I’m in school, if I’m working two jobs, if I’m just basic-issue loony, OCD, scattered, zoned, totally freaked by life in general and my own idiosyncratic nuttiness, it’s chaos all day every day. That’s the playing field. I might as well get used to it.
Bottom bottom line: I’m gonna get something done this week. I’m not gonna cave before the period even begins. I’m quite optimistic actually. I’m hoping, with luck, for something good.
Stress can kill creativity. You end up getting caught up in a mind made loop. When stressed and at odds with myself I remember the Ray Bradbury quote.
“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”
“Working in the crack”…love that! Sometimes it’s all we get to do, and you’re right that good stuff can come out of it. Good luck this week – there is no doubt in my mind that you will make something (great) out of nothing!
Weird sense of humor indeed! 😆
‘They that wait upon the Lord ,shall renew their strength ,they shall mount up on wings like eagles” They shall walk and not be weary …I see you soaring ,way up above all the stress and trials , in flip flops and t shirt ,who cares ,the air currents are not yours to direct .
The paradox is when we do sit down to write it calms the chaos! Right? Thanks for sharing your story of writing standing up in a tee shirt and flip flops I will conjure up that image the next time I find an excuse not to write!!! No excuses!!!
I needed to read this today. Thank you! With three kids on summer break and my other work as a fine art photographer gaining a good momentum, writing is too often shelved. Most often the writing happens in my head and finding the time or motivation to sit down and get it out after doing all the other things has been difficult, but now I realize (again!) that the problem is in waiting for the time and motivation. I just need to do it.
Just read you grew up in Pleasantville in Authentic Swing .Hah ,I grew up in Mt.Kisco ,and I recognize the names ,even the diner ! There was even a girl named Candy Valentine ,believe it or not . Our golf start was Mt .Kisco Country Club . I can still remember Rt 172 ,going into Pleasantville ,you had to stop and let the golf carts cross the road . I have to finish your book now , for such a time as this .
Awesome Steve, high fives!! Also remember to be vigilant for accidents…I am big time at the moment.
Work in the cracks.
For not sharing the details about working standing up, it sure crept in a lot.
Freudian slip or fine wit?
In last two weeks of school, my life is even more chaotic than usual—why? I don’t know. But thank you for reminding me that chaos is good. I need to find a way to work, even in 15 to 20 minute cracks.
What I needed to hear most Steve when life is more chaotic than usual is, “Keep expectations low, low, low.” Under promise and over deliver. GREAT!
Oh, YEAH! The urgency of it, WRITE now RIGHT NOW! Unfiltered fire hose from muse to the page. She LOVES that, and doesn’t measure or parse or care if it fits. A song, or a shout, or a laugh or a HOWL! She wants it out loud!
If your thinking part is done, the writing part can be pretty efficient. Good luck!
Great perspective Steve and an encouragement for me to stop making excuses, just get stuff done! I have to admit I was laughing when I read about how you had to work after the surgery 🙂
Steve, how in the world did you channel the same chaos demons that have been haunting me this week? In the next month I must: 1) Plan a huge event to take place in three weeks 2) design and execute two rooms from bare concrete before July 3) Plan and leave for a month-long trip to Ireland and Italy in July 4) Prepare my house to sell 5) Deal with all those pesky (but wonderful) family/friend obligations. This, AND write? This, AND get pages to my agent? I like your stance. Set expectations low and revel in every stolen moment. I will be writing on my cell phone in planes and bathrooms.
Chaos? It has nothin’ on us!
I had to add one more thing.
I have a theory that our perception of how much time something will take expands in the realm of thought. If I have to run an errand I don’t want to run, it grows until it’s elephantine, when really it will take 15 minutes, my mind seems to think it will be an all day thing. When I finally do finish, I am exhausted (lifting elephants is tough work!) and can’t do anything the rest of the day. Doing my creative work feels this way too. It feels like an hour of writing takes 8 hours. It doesn’t. I am trying hard to see a mouse as a mouse.
I love this, and couldn’t agree with you more! Here’s to fighting our own personal demons, aka Resistance.
In a paradoxical way, when “working in the cracks” one can actually get more work done! Somehow, knowing I have only 5 or 10 minutes free forces my mind to concentrate on the question at hand and produce something much better than I have any right to expect, given the constraints of the situation. In 7 minutes between meetings one time, I wrote one paragraph about a character that survived the subsequent six (or ten?) edits intact, published word for word as originally written.
I’m considering switching to finishing a short story a week for the time being. My job is particularly stressful right — we’re going through a reorganization and as a result, I have a big project that needs to be done. I end up coming home just overwhelmed. I’m only getting 1,000-3,000 words done a week on the novel because I just don’t have the energy. A short story a week would be within that same word count, so I could make some progress.
Given my schedule for the rest of the month, I needed this. Thanks!
For some reason this makes me think of non-attachment. Not “having to do” just doing. Not caving into chaos or resistance, still accomplishing as much as possible, and not being attached to any of it. We can get too attached to chaos. As Erika mention’s above, “If I have to run an errand I don’t want to run, it grows until it’s elephantine…”
A challenge with chaos is that it encourages impulsiveness. Staying disciplined to do the work, and allowing for more to come into the work — like the idea of using chaos as catalyst for thinking big — seems to be a key.
Hey Steven, I loved this post. It fully resonated with me. I’ve tried allocating slots of time to do the work I want to do, either in writing, gardening, or personal time, but oftentimes, the day becomes chaotic and I end up not utilizing my day as productively as I like and feeling bad about it. But yesterday, I did just what you suggested and simply put in an hour on an article I’m writing and was way more productive than I would have thought. Great post. I love your work.