Monday, April 4, 2016

C is for chaos

It's day 3 of the A to Z Blog Challenge. As you know I'm following an editorial calendar this year.
Monday - something light to start the week. A bit of self-care, creativity challenge or the like.
Tuesday - telling notes for a specific story or kind of story. Tips and tricks to help you think about what you're telling and how.
Wednesday - my usual #tellinglife post, looking at some of the more personal aspects of storytelling and its role in my life.
Thursday - a dip into some of the issues facing contemporary storytelling or a dive into some of the more unusual applications of storytelling.
Friday - my usual personal post about life following the death of my husband
Saturday - the storytelling coach offers a tip you can use right now. An example of the kinds of tools I encourage my students to use.

I struggle with chaos. I have some bad organizational habits that get me in trouble from time to time. I'm sure I'm not the only one who experiences this. Today I want to think about the pros and cons of chaos in the life of the working artist. More than that, I'd like to offer some tools for managing chaos and some ways chaos can be your ally.

When chaos runs out of control it can disrupt our creative processes. It can even lose us work. I have tried any number of organizational systems and incorporate elements from several of them; I found something that works for me. That's what you have to do, too. Rather than bore you with my methods to manage madness, I want to give you one tool that helps me when I feel overwhelmed.

I use a timer. I use timers for so many things in my life, but I use a timer especially when confronting chaos or tasks I don't want to deal with. I fight chaos 20 minutes at a time. Rather than become overwhelmed by the whole thing (for example, I've let my desk become cluttered and hard to use) I set a timer for 20 minutes and clear my desk for that duration. When the timer goes off I stop or decide if I want to work on it for another 20 minutes.

By breaking the chaos down into small units of time I take away some of its power to overwhelm me.

What tools do you use to fight chaos?

On the other hand, chaos is a natural state of the universe - everything tends towards chaos - and can help spark creativity.

This is one of my favorite exercises for building deeper stories. Sometimes I use it to develop backstory, sometimes I use it when I'm struggling with creative blocks.

I take a stack of 3x5 cards (or if I don't have any, I tear up a sheet of paper into smaller pieces) and write down ten elements from my story. The elements can be characters, events, locale, etc. The bigger pieces work better for this exercise.

I shuffle the stack and then do one of two things.

  • I pull out one card at random. I then set my timer for five minutes and write about that one element in great detail. I learn more about that character, event or locale in those five minutes than I might with many hours of working on the story as a whole.
  • If I'm feeling daring and really want to embrace chaos, I shuffle the deck them lay the cards out in a random order, face down. I turn over the first card and that's the starting point for the story. each card that follows adds another story element. By telling the story in this truly non-linear, rather chaotic way, I often learn new things about the story. I learn what's essential and what can go. I have to stretch to make connections. Sometimes it gets a little ridiculous and is nothing I would ever perform, but I learn something each time.

When we forgive ourselves for a tendency towards chaos, when we make friends with it, we give ourselves permission to be more creative and playful in our work as well as less rigid in our habits. There can be beauty out of chaos. After all, butterflies emerge from a chaotic mass of cells that used to be a caterpillar.

What forms of chaos work for you? How have you used chaos to help create?

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. Oh, I like the idea of this non-linear telling! Thank you! I'll definitely try it :)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

  2. Chaos can certainly lead to creativity. Best wishes for the greatest success in A-Z


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