April Quast

April Quast

Artist. Inspirer. Teacher.

Why Do creative people have messy reputations?

Creative people have so many ideas, but brains are for connecting creative ideas, not storing them.

Ideas can be messy, after all ideas are not finished products. They are sparks to ignite a much bigger flame. Artist’s carry a reputation of being scattered. They are creatives with ideas continuously being birthed. My scattered desk fits my artist stereotype and is a perfect symbol of the ideas that are scattered around in my brain. I have so many ideas. Some fill my head with possibility and other ideas fog my brain with distractions. My desk is full of things I have to do, things I want to do and things that I want to remember that I have already done. I leave items on my desk to remind me to reorder items, finish half started projects, or give someone a call. I have items I save for inspirations, reminding me of ideas that I want to see through and others I want to get started on. I even have items representing projects I have finished, I leave items out on my desk for inspiration to inspire fresh starts and to celebrate past accomplishments. So many reminders, so much clutter. All of these objects represent ideas, tasks and sometimes even accomplishments, but they are all piled in disarray. It is a creative mess. Are creative minds supposed to live in this chaos? The funny thing is that although my desk fits the messy-artist stereotype, I am an artist with a need for order. To me, this disarray is the difference between busy and intentional. When ideas, tasks and even accomplishments are kicking around in my brain without any order it is easy to become stressed and overwhelmed. Artists you can tame your mess, and it might actually help you.

My stressful desk reminds me of a Sherlock Holmes story I read in high school, in which Watson and Holmes have a short exchange about Copernicus’s Theory. Dr. Watson is excited to share this new bit of information about the Earth revolving around the stationary sun and Holmes is annoyed about learning this new fact. He responds to Dr. Watson like this:

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has difficulty laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” [Dr. Watson] protested.

“What of the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

A clean desk…but the lighting reveals that clean happened after daylight.

If my desk is like this brain attic, than I need to take care as to what I allow on it. Which tasks are the most pressing? Which projects am I really going to start on next, and which objects need to be neatly filed away for a later date? My desk is not that big. There will always be things to do, ideas to remember and accomplishments to be celebrated, but if I allow those things to pile up, eventually I will run out of the space to choose. This loss of choice is the difference between busy and intentional. So let’s just say Holmes’s theory is true. Let’s say my messy desk is now an analogy for all of my ideas and inspirations. If creativity is about making connections, then why isn’t it reasonable to think that the more ideas that you have stored on your “desk”, the more ideas you have to make connections with?

It seems to be a common theme that creative minds carry a lot of thoughts. Have you ever heard the analogy that a creative person’s brain is like a computer screen with too many tabs open? Whether it be a computer screen with too many tabs or an over crowded desk, are creative people destined to live in this disarray? I think Holmes makes a very important point, that brains are for connecting ideas, not storing them. When you are trying to find something in an overcrowded attic or a on a jumbled desk, time is wasted rummaging through unnecessary stuff. It doesn’t matter how many ideas you have stored up, if you are tripping over the chaos it becomes impossible to make creative connections. Your actions simply become reactions. When you are forced to reacted to the items about to topple over, your actions lose the opportunity to be intentional. Is it possible to have too many ideas?

There is no such thing as too many ideas, but if your brain attic becomes overstuffed how can you make room to keep collecting more ideas? The answer is finding another room. Not every treasure can fit in the attic. It’s time to clear off your desk and clean out that brain attic! It’s time to start using your second brain…write it down!

Introducing my most valuable creative tool…my journals.

That’s right. JOURNALS, with an “S”. I use 3 journals to organize my tasks, ideas and accomplishments. I use a Bullet Journal, a Field Journal and a notebook. My Bullet Journal is for organizing my tasks, goals and accomplishments. My field journal is where I collect information, things I’ve learned from books, ideas and planning for future projects. My notebook is as boring as its name. I find that sometimes I just need to spill my thoughts out so I can move on to my next task, (these thoughts are not usually organized enough to find a place in my bullet journal or field journal so I spill them out throughout my day.) At the end of the day any thought that was important enough to keep I file into the appropriate journal. My three-journal system is new and evolving but it gives me a peace of mind that I don’t need to lose any pieces of my mind.

Stay tuned for future blog posts where I tell you more about how you can adopt journaling into your creative process and create another room to store those valuable, artistic ideas.

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