Orderly Creativity?

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“Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Gustave Flaubert

I just read this quote and was quite taken by it simply for its right-on-ness. The writer side of me has endless ideas for books, articles, essays and even blog posts forever lost, aborted by a lack of time and/or remembrance. Fictional plots and non-fictional rants are constantly lost due to my lack of organization. Distraction kills small bits of life that attempt to grow during the few times I actually focus.

It’s frustrating to have a tool so wonderful as my laptop (I’m totally a Mac geek and look down condescendingly on any bulky PC user in my local coffee shop) and yet lose productivity due to the ease of access to email, etc. And I am finding that I need to be obsessively organized and focused, setting silly rules for myself so that I don’t waste the time/day away.

Does anyone else deal with this? Do you find that quote to be true? As a site full of both artists and patrons, I would think this would be a timely topic.

And if you do find it to be true, what do you do to combat it? Artists are generally horrible at administration, so how do you conquer your poor habits to generate the art that good discipline can breed?

Matt Conner is the teaching pastor at Trinity Church in the heart of Indianapolis and the founder of Analogue Media.


12 Comments

  1. Robin Mooty

    Wow! what a helpful quote and added thoughts. Thanks!
    This is a daily struggle for me. I am a graphic design major and wannabe real musician and artist. The things I love to do in life (and especially school) require me to show up every day and crank out creativity. It is so discouraging sometimes to show up with a complete lack of any good ideas, or stuck in the rut of making the same old trendy things everyone else is making. I love the idea of being avant garde but I don’t have a clue how to get there…maybe what I need is some more structure in life as suggested. As a fellow mac user (and in a coffee shop-haha, so predictable) I can’t even tell you how much my little sticky notes feature adds up with list after list of creative ideas or things to do that NEVER get done. Talk about stealing the life right out of you like you said. It’s disheartening to know that you can actually have some good ideas and just never have the time to see those through.
    Over the new year time of this year God really gave me some vision for how to add more structure to my life in terms of spending time in His Word and practicing spiritual disciplines (Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline has been really helpful). At first I was a bit hesitant for fear of legalism stealing the life out of me. However, that hasn’t been the case at all. I think because the motivation is grace-driven and desire-driven (not salvation-earning-driven). It has actually restored a lot of Life back into me. The structure has provided set times that I will be in the Word, spend time in a community group, and practical ways of how to incorporate some more of the disciplines into my life. Though structure sounds confining it has actually been freeing, equipping, and exciting!
    This inspires me to believe that the same could happen in a creative sense…guard my time better, add some structure and then there will be freedom and room to be “violent and original.” Ideas will no longer be brushed under the rug of my sticky notes to-do list.
    Thank you, thank you.

  2. David V.

    Yes… I am terrible about wasting my life away checking email, myspace, facebook, and other (cough rabbit room cough) websites more frequently than i need to. It drives me nuts when i realize it and i think that if i saw how much time i actually spend on the computer every month i would probably running away screaming, (until i wanted to know if anyone had superpoked me).

    I’m a songwriter and ideas for songs materialize at any moment, so for me, i have a word document on my desktop (irony) called ‘ideas’ and i write down the idea and whatever context it needs. then when i have a little time devoted to writing, i can look over some ideas i’ve had and pull from them or develop them with focus.

    Im interested in the quote you mentioned and kind of excited by it because i want to move beyond my established ground in writing. the thought of being more ‘violent’ is an exciting one. It asks the question, “what do i really feel and want to say?” and moves me away from writing according to another’s expectation.

  3. Loren Eaton

    I don’t know if what I do would be called art or not, but it really helps to get away from the computer. I’ll take a pen and a canary-yellow legal pad. I’ll tear a sheet off and fill it front and back. Then I’ll enter it into the computer. Repeat process until done. I’ve tried typing it in from the get go and as soon as I hit a roadblock I’m skimming through my RSS feeds. The computer is lethal to my creativity.

    Full disclosure: I’m a PC user. The shame! The shame!

  4. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Matt,

    Back in my teens and twenties, I worked strictly from my passion. People saw me as disciplined, but I was really just doing what I wanted – practicing guitar and banjo every day. I didn’t even go on a one day trip without taking them with me. Part of this was the obsessive need for self-worth through music, but also a large part was passion.

    As life has gone on, other passions are put into the mix. My family. Writing. Helping others find Christ’s life, love, and reserves of power within their own earthen temples.

    I have a job working with Alison Krauss and US. But in my off time for the past ten years I have accomplished relatively little. Why?

    The answer: disorganization, living as though I am still a 24 yr old driven solely by my musical passion. And just in the past year or so I’ve seen that things have to change. And they are changing – through reading books like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The Success Principles, and whatnot. Those are two of the best I’ve read – they’re centered on one’s personal character and not on manipulating others to get what we want, and I highly recommend both of them.

    I realize that a lot of that success literature is about “creating the life you want” rather than finding the life God has for us. But principles are principles – and discipline is discipline – and truth is truth. And we also have to realize that “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that built it.” (Ps 127:1)

    The result so far for me is a new recording (last year), a radically cleaner basement, and occasional shows of my own. Coming up will be instructional dvds for banjo and guitar, books on the practicality of reliance on Christ, and in the years to come more cds, books, and instructional materials, plus speaking/playing at churches and whatever else God brings me – along with my regular job.

    But all this takes vision, I’m finding. Whatever we do – parenting, building a house, living our Christian lives – we can’t just float along from day to day, pushed around by circumstance.

    I’ve recently got into archery. The further I am from the target, the higher I have to aim above the target. And driving – when we’re driving, we’ve got to look at the horizon; if we look only at the road right in front of us, we wobble all over the place and look drunk.

    Life is the same – a long-range vision, aiming high, looking at that bright horizon we’re aiming for, and then aiming right for it.

    That means long-range goals, and then monthly checks to see if I’m coming nearer those goals (this is one area I’ve got to work on lately – Feb is slipping by me with relatively little done for my long-range goals).

    It’s easy to live circumstantially, with this or that situation pulling me here or there, saying yes to everything. But a large part of finding the life God has for us involves saying no to good things in order to say yes to the best things.

  5. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Two more books that have helped me greatly in terms of discipline – Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water and Dorothy Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker. L’Engle speaks of the daily discipline of writing, something which I need to apply to songwriting.

  6. easton crow

    Self discipline has been the running theme of my prayer life lately. My wife and I are both creative types, and so things like organization and good housekeeping run counter to our natures. One of the motivators for me has been fear for my kids. I don’t want them to grow up with a lousy example of doing the work that needs doing. My parents, and I would think most of their generation, grew up with the “Well it just has to be done.” mentality. That missed me and my fellow gen-xers. No, it doesn’t need to get done. There are still dishes in the cupboard, and i just get a new DVD from Netflix. Yikes. I don’t want my kids to grow up like that. So I’d better change before it’s too late.

  7. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Hey Matt!

    Man, you named me here. This is my chief battle to be sure. I spent time on it in prayer this very morning.

    I’ve got a couple practical concepts that when I actually apply them are helpful that I’ll share here. Email is a biggie for me. I used to have my send/receive schedule set for every 10 minutes. That meant there was a constant and unending stream of email coming in that would ask for my attention. By setting the schedule to run every hour (or sometimes every three hours) I established a set time that would be for responding to emails. Creatively, it’s good to take a mental break every hour or so anyway. By simply setting the send/receive schedule in Entourage (PC software for a Mac, I know, I know…) I established a boundary for email answering and made it more intentional.

    The other thing I try to do is take advantage of the Lenten season to go after things in my life that need addressing. Maybe you already do this (and this may be preaching to the choir) but I pray and ask God to reveal something in my life that I need to give attention to – either to give up or to take up – and then try to develop a discipline for it during Lent. It’s different from traditional Lent in that it doesn’t have to be something we then abandon on Easter. To me it’s a taste of freedom. Can I vow to change my habits for the rest of my life? I don’t think so. But I can commit to doing something during the 40 days of lent, and then who knows, after having a taste of it, maybe I can carry it out further for the rest of the year. For instance, one year I gave up worry and learned a discipline of trust. My wife gave up speeding. This year we’re encouraging my son Jacob to take up journaling. You get the idea.

    I wonder if there is some way to incorporate a creative discipline for the remainder of Lent that would be helpful to the two of us. In fact, I think I’ll determine to make some time to create at least a little every day this week.

    Anyway, from one global organizational disaster to another, I pray God’s blessings for you.

    JGray

  8. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Oooh yeah, and one more thing:

    The other day when I got to hang out with Andy, Randall, and Eric, we discussed one of the secrets to productive times of creativity. Now this may not work for everyone, but for a couple of us guys gathered there at Tommy Boy’s (and I won’t name anyone in order protect the not so innocent…), we discussed the virtues of having to go to the bathroom.

    You see, when you’ve had your coffee and breakfast for the day, there comes the point when you need to use the restroom, and it creates an urgency, and you start working faster with more intensity and passion as you hold it in… and this is how great songs are written…

    I’m only kind of joking. Well, that may qualify as over sharing, but there you go

    🙂

  9. Chris Slaten

    “A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”
    “Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.” – Annie Dillard
    The only thing I have to add to Annie’s quote is that “appealing workplaces” may be coffeeshops, mountaintop cabins with a beautiful view or in the shade of a tree in a public park. However, I would also add, since previous conversations in the Rabbit Room have recently been celebrating our diversity of influences and inspirations, that Annie may be speaking strictly for herself and people like her. My point is that a workplace is important and it is worth the effort to do some diagnostic testing to narrow things down. For some people being alone is necessary to be prolific. For others being alone in a very public place around lots of interesting strangers is just as energizing. Paul Simon said that he throws a ball around while he creates, talking, singing out loud. Jimmy Webb is all about having a room dedicatestrictly to music and writing. I guess this idea may not really have to do with discipline as much is style, but I think it does take some discipline, thought and time to actively/critically try to hone in understanding how I work the best. I will add that I am terrible at taking the time to understand how I work best.
    Another thing this conversation reminds me of is something a teaching elder at my church said “What does it take to make clay harden? Nothing! What does it take to make a boat drift? Nothing!” (actually I now that I think of it that might be from J.C. Ryle) What can the tyranny of the urgent do to someone with all of the immediate, mindless tasks and distractions (such as the compulsive e-mail checking I am guilty of) it throws our way? Keep our minds off of the hardening clay and drifting boat! I think there was a character in Milo and the Phantom Tollbooth that would act in such a way. He forced Milo and his gang to move a pile of sand with a tweezer and other mindless consuming tasks so that they would forget about their ultimate destination. A good schedule may be a good supplemental defense for such a villain. The primary defense being keeping our eyes fixed on Him, our guide and destination.

    Looks like I just ended up saying the same thing Ron did. Sorry for the long post.

  10. Jenni

    I think that quote is absolutely true. I have no doubt I’m a writer, but I have very little to show for it. Why? Because I’m not organized enough nor disciplined enough. My husband is a very organized (and talented) drummer, yet he always strives to be more organized. Come to think of it, every writing book I’ve read stresses discipline which is a form of organization – organizing your time. I think for sure, there will be times when creativity strikes out of the blue, but most often, I think we need to set aside regular time to write, etc..
    Thanks for the reminder!

  11. t clair

    I’ve found that my work tends to go uncompleted if I do not have some sort of outlet for it. I can write for myself, and do regularly. But if I am not working on a project that serves a purpose (specifically: will be published, performed or recorded) then this drains my energy and motivation. When I am working on a project (particularly one with a deadline) I find myself forced to be creative. Discipline.

    This has an effect on my “personal” writing. I had a weekly column for a couple of years with a local entertainment publication. This forced me to be creative every week (or my editor would yell at me…or cry…or curse…or all three). But that energy and motivation seeped into other forms of creative expression in my life. The discipline and visibility of that weekly column fueled my passion for creativity in general. It motivated me to book shows for my band, put extra hours into my sermon prep, and begin trying my hand at short story writing and poetry.

    I have also found that it is handy to couple my writing time with my quiet time. Adding an extra half hour to an hour to my morning spiritual ritual has not only kept me writing daily, it’s added an especially spiritual dimension to my art. Creativity literally becomes an outflow of my relationship with God because I segue from communion with Christ right into whatever writing project I am working on.

    How often do I actually practice the above formula? Well, i think i did it for a month. It was a good month though. (really, i swear!)

    Another defunct yet inspiring(?) practice of mine in the past was taking up a writing partner. Jessica lives in Boston (far far away=no face to face nagging) and required of me four new pages of fiction a week. Believe it or not, this worked for about six months. Since I have gone into full-time ministry, it is simply not realistic. Still, we encourage each other regularly in our creative endeavors.

    And, by the way, hi. This is my first post. Sorry for the length.

  12. Kathy

    My pastor said that at one point, he was asked to write down exactly how much time he was spending on what for an entire week and turn the report in to his then senior pastor. He said that it was time-consuming, but that it helped him realize where his problem areas were so that he could work on fixing them.
    Perhaps that could be applied to a few situations here… I know that I could benefit from a time-check.

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