How to create in the chaos of life

How to create in the chaos of life

Do you want to write, paint, act, make music, create..? But does life keep getting in the way? It’s hard to say this without sounding harsh, but I’m going to say it how it is, right at the beginning, just in case nobody else ever has. It’s not life that’s getting in the way. It’s you.

We get in the way of creating by making excuses, blaming others, feeling sorry for ourselves and creating seemingly unsolvable problems. We live by rules that we’ve created ourselves. We harbour beliefs that are unhelpful, obstructive and as fabricated as the notion of fairies. And we tell ourselves that we have no choice in the matter, which is just one big fat lie.

I say this because I’ve experienced it. I totally get it. I’ve made plenty of excuses, and told myself that life’s too hard, that the odds are against me, that it’ll never happen, that I’m wasting my time. But – deep breath – we can do better than this. And if we want to live a life that fizzes with meaning – a life that we’re excited about – then we have to do better than this.

People create in the middle of ‘chaos’ all the time; we can too!

There are people who create whilst caring for disabled relatives. There are artists that paint whilst struggling with mental ill health. There are mothers and fathers who make music and run businesses with tiny children running amok in the background. Millions of people around the world live lives rich with meaning, sometimes against all the odds.

Having responsibilities and challenges to deal with is not the reason you don’t create. Being ‘in the middle of things’ is what defines life! If we find ourselves saying that we’re not doing the things we really want to be doing because we’re ‘in the middle of a few things right now’ then alarm bells should ring. In the middle of what? We are always in the middle of things.

Life is complicated and busy. If we are in the habit of not creating generally, then the chance of creating when a partner becomes ill, or a parent starts suffering dementia, or a teenager starts experiencing debilitating anxiety is virtually nil. But let’s be clear: it’s not the events that are the problem. We just weren’t in the habit of creating beforehand. We haven’t made the main thing the main thing yet! We haven’t belligerently chosen to prioritise the act of passionately making meaning in our life. We haven’t actively chosen a life of creating.

I know this because there are writers, musicians, artists, photographers and actors who work through deep pain and produce work regardless. There are writers who create through the process of their own dying. There are musicians and painters who articulate for us the complexities of loss, mental ill health and despair. If they can do it, then we can do it. I can hear you protesting! But, seriously, if they can do it, then we can do it.

Admitting it matters

The trick is to admit to yourself that it matters. What is it that your heart wants? What is it that you long to create? This simple first step can be the hardest. Often, we’ve buried our desire to create so deep inside of us so we can pretend we don’t really want it. We tell ourselves we’re not bothered. We tell ourselves it’s a waste of time. Or a waste of money.

The thing that makes me really sad about that is that what we’re really saying here is that we don’t matter. The song that our heart is trying to sing doesn’t deserve to be heard. We’re saying that our uniqueness isn’t important – that our creations (different to anything created by anyone else) are unworthy. And this isn’t true.

All of us are creative: it’s what defines us as human beings. It is innate, and therefore comes naturally (we only have to look at children to see the truth in this). So the greatest thing about getting creative is that it’s less about learning a whole load of new skills (there might be some of that) and more about getting out of our own way. We need to STOP doing all the stuff that gets in the way, and let the magic of creativity flow through us.

Before we die

The sun is shining today with a warmth I’ve not felt on my skin since some time at the end of last summer. I stood outside in the garden for a few moments this morning and turned my face to the sky. It was a glorious feeling, and I thought what I often think at moments like that: one day I’ll be dead and I’ll never get to feel this again. I know that lots of us don’t like to think about death but I always have – even as a child, which admittedly caused me some anxiety! When I was about eight years old I spent a good year or so obsessively worrying that when I died (I believed in an afterlife) I wouldn’t know how to find all my already-dead relatives! Then I spent my teenage years ruminating almost constantly about dying from cancer. I could continue, but suffice to say that death has never been far from my mind. You might think that sounds unhealthy but the upside is that I’ve learned to be really clear with myself about what it is I need to do while I’m still alive!

What is it that you need to do while you’re still alive?

What is it that you’ll regret not having done once you’re on your death bed? Seriously. Ask yourself.

Nothing is stopping you from pursuing your heart’s desire. Only you.

The next step, once you’ve taken ownership of the thing you want to pursue, is to make it the main thing. Make it the most important thing in your life. Obsess about it. Fall in love with it. Start a secret affair with it. Go to bed dreaming about it. Plan your life together, coaxing it out of the darkness and into the light. Take care of it. And let it take care of you. Creating changes us. We grow.

At some point you will need to take some action. I suggest a tiny action, so small you will hardly notice it happening. But take action you must. Is there a friend or a loved one you can confide in? Having somebody on your side, someone who will be genuinely cheering you on (nobody who you think might dampen your enthusiasm!) can be really helpful. You might like to tell them that next Tuesday you are going to go out to the shops and buy a notebook, or some paints, or some new strings for the guitar that you fetched from the attic at the weekend. Start slowly, and the rest will follow.

All we have to do is keep the main thing the main thing! No more excuses about being too busy, or having too many people making demands on us. How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives – Annie Dillard. Think about this. There is never, ever, ever, going to be a time when life gets suddenly quiet and everything we’ve held dear in our hearts magically gets a chance to come into being. This isn’t how life works.

Think about how you spend your day. Think about how you spend your week. Write down all the activities and work out how many hours you spend doing each of those activities on a daily / weekly basis. Create a pie chart and take a look at it! This is your life! Happy with it?

Learn to prioritise the most important stuff. Create new habits if you need. Stop paying attention to the internal chatter that tells you it’s too difficult, that you’re not good enough, that things are more complicated for you than they are for other people. You can’t control your thoughts but you can learn to ignore them (that’s a whole new conversation).

I’m not saying it’s easy. But it is simple. Make the main thing the main thing, for, as Aristotle said: We are what we repeatedly do.


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