Carving out space to create is not always easy. I journey from creative chaos to fresh beginnings and discover seven ways to make space for inspiration.
Emerging from chaos
Spring is a good time for new projects. But fresh shoots must shoulder their way though last year’s leaves to reach the sunshine. The debris from 2017’s publishing project is still strewn around my study. It is twelve months since I have seen the floor. A paper dragon has taken up residence beside the bookcase. It has nested on top of the filing cabinet and laid its eggs on every available surface.
All winter I ignored it. I tiptoed round it to get to my desk, then resolutely turned my back on it. This was an excellent strategy when I was busy. I write more easily in an uncluttered space. Clearing my desk created an illusion of calm for minimal effort. Just as long as I didn’t turn around.
Alas, I’ve never been a tidy worker. When I edited films, I always ended up covered in splicing tape. 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.
Now Spring is here. Fresh ideas are jostling for attention and I must slay the paper dragon. I decide to start small. I clear the clutter from my bookcase, one shelf at a time. I start playing around with 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.)
Reading an essay on haiku, I come 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 suddenly less daunting. I don’t need less clutter, I need more ma! I tackle another small shelf. With some satisfaction, I notice a growing sense of calm in one corner of the room.
I start thinking about how I can make more space in other areas of my life. Balancing a day job with my publishing and writing projects means I’m always working at a computer. So this weekend I declared a digital Sabbath. One whole day when I wouldn’t turn on the computer or check my phone at all. It required some thought at first, but it was bliss! My eyes relaxed and I felt energy and focus returning for the first time in a while. I plan to make it a regular practice.
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.
Seven ways to make space for creativity and inspiration
So to summarise what I’ve learned, here are my seven top tips:
1. It is easier to think 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. (Even God rested.)
4. When you’re ready 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.