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Inspiring space: Sycamore gap, Hadrian's Wall

It’s a seasonal cycle. The fallow time between projects is as important as the work that comes before and after. — Vicky Arthurs

Making space for inspiration

How to cut through the chaos and make room for creative inspiration.

Creative chaos

Alas, I’ve never been a tidy worker. When I edited Super-8 films, I always ended up covered in splicing tape. Now I write, I have an on-off relationship with a paper dragon. Periodically, it takes up residence beside the bookcase. It nests on top of the filing cabinet and lay its eggs on every available surface.

I do my best to ignore its antics. I’ll tiptoe round it to get to my desk, then resolutely turn my back on it. This is an excellent strategy when I am busy. I write more easily in an uncluttered space. Clearing my desk creates an illusion of calm for minimal effort. Just as long as I don’t turn around.

Here’s the paradox: I need a clear space to work in. But when I’m engrossed in a complex project, I lose all sense of my external environment and create chaos.

When a big project ends — and I’ve had time to celebrate, collapse and recover — I must slay the paper fiend. For fresh ideas need space to thrive and grow.

Breathing space

I start small. I clear the clutter from my bookcase, one shelf at a time. I play around writing haiku — the shortest poetic form I can think of.  And sometimes I remember to enjoy breathing.

Taking a few conscious breaths instantly creates an inner sense of space. Time expands with the awareness of each breath. It’s a relaxing way to start a writing session and a wonderful antidote to the pressure of deadlines.

Like breath, creative projects have a rhythm of their own. They begin and end in silence. It’s a seasonal cycle. The fallow time between projects is as important as the work that comes before and after. It’s a good time to rest, meditate and smile enigmatically when people ask what you’re working on. (Perhaps Mona Lisa was a poet.)

Head space

Reading an essay on haiku, I stumble across the Japanese concept of “ma”. It loosely translates as space, gap or interval, but has a more profound meaning. Like the “no-thing” of the Tao Te Ching, it is the vibrant void that gives form — and depth — to all things. A presence, rather than an absence.

Looked at from this perspective, the chaos in my study is less daunting. I don’t need less clutter, I need more ma! As I tackle each small shelf, I notice a growing sense of calm.

I start thinking about how I can make more space in other areas of my life. Balancing a day job with my writing and publishing projects means I’m always working at a computer. I declare a digital Sabbath. One whole day when I won’t turn on the computer or check my phone at all. It requires some thought at first, but it is bliss! My eyes relax and I feel my energy and focus returning. If I were wise, I would make this a regular practice.

Spacious work

In the best haiku, words and ma work together to create a deeper meaning. Seamus Heaney’s haiku dangerous pavements is a wonderful example of this. The truth of the poem lies entirely in the gap beyond the poet’s words.

Of course, there’s an art to this. But I believe that finding ways to connect to inner spaciousness is key to creating work that resonates deeply. When you tap into silence, inspiration abounds. Your writing flows more easily and there’s a real chance of creating magic.

So, if you’re yearning to create, but still need to make space for inspiration, here are my top seven tips:

Making space for inspiration: a butterly lands in the evening light

Seven ways to make space for creativity and inspiration

  1. It is easier to create in a clear space. If you are busy, cheat. Chuck the clutter over your shoulder and don’t look back.
  2. Take a few conscious breaths now and then.
  3. Enjoy the gap between projects. (Everyone needs to rest.)
  4. When you’re ready to start afresh, start small. Clear a tiny space and pick the smallest creative project you can imagine. It will lead to bigger things.
  5. Focus on the space you’re creating, not the chaos of all that’s gone before.
  6. Take a digital Sabbath. One screen-free day a week works wonders.
  7. Seek out work that resonates with you and figure out what makes it special.

Article © Vicky Arthurs
Photos: Sycamore gap © Toa Heftiba , Gray hairstreak butterfly © Ray Hennessy (via Unsplash)

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