Organizing to foster creativity

Creative personalities have the stereotype of being messy, disorganized people. When, in reality, the incredibly successful creative people of the world are often profoundly organized — they have to be to manage their work and schedules, so they can be ready when inspiration strikes.

Reader Sarah sent us a clip from the Joan Rivers documentary that illustrates one comedian’s method for organizing the jokes of her decades-long career:

Sarah went on to say, “Organization is in part about being prepared for the moment when insight strikes. It’s about creating the conditions for creativity to flourish, so that when you enter into creation mode, your physical world is set up to support you.”

I think of this organized preparation every time I watch the Olympics. The five minute gymnastic routine or the less than 30 second speed-skating race took decades of daily practices, workouts, proper nutrition, sacrifice, and emotional turmoil to make happen. Success doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly doesn’t happen surrounded by clutter. To be at the top of any profession requires commitment and structure — even for artists.

12 Comments for “Organizing to foster creativity”

  1. posted by Michele Connolly, Get Organized Wizard on

    Makes sense! Creative forms like poetry, art and screenwriting (Robert McKee’s wonderful book on writing films is even called ‘Structure’) depend completely on organization to work.

  2. posted by Rebecca C on

    “…creating the conditions for creativity to flourish…” I really like that! Very inspiring. And makes a great deal of sense, too.

  3. posted by Sarah on

    A couple of weeks ago at a party, a stranger and I got into a conversation that ranged all over (certainly passing through “Outliers”), but generally circling back to the idea that what is often observed as talent can be more accurately attributed to hard work.

    Organization is certainly part of that. How many creative people do you know? But how many of them would be willing to put in the effort to create that working file? How many really learn to use their cameras, or regularly write-read-rewrite, or truly make the time to play scales and etudes?

    Years ago I was theorizing why one former coworker had bombed in Nashville while another was working steadily on Broadway, and I described a pie chart of talent, hard work, and luck. I think we like to say it’s all talent and luck that makes Joan Rivers more famous than we are, because that means it’s not our faults we’re not famous. But just that one-minute video shows how much work went into it.

    (ps–I love that she laughed at her own joke when she read it again.)

  4. posted by chacha1 on

    True, true, and true.

    I manage to keep up with the necessities when life is cluttered, but it’s not till I get the decks cleared and my projects properly queued that I am able to relax enough to be inspired.

  5. posted by Maggie on

    I found this post so inspirational! First, just for getting a glimpse into the amazing organization of her records, but also because I’ve never stopped to think about all the hard work that goes into a career that I think of as such a free form as comedy. I admittedly know absolutely nothing about comedy but found such an appreciation of all the hard work that Joan Rivers has obviously put in over the decades upon decades of her career.

    Like Sarah, I also loved that she laughed at her own joke. 😉

  6. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    Twyla Tharp has a wonderful book called The Creative Habit. Inspiring and grounded in the hard work that turns creativity into reality.


  7. posted by Ruth on

    Important to keep in mind that “organized” and “neat and tidy” are NOT the same things. Sometimes they intersect, sometimes not.

    Case in point: my husband is an artist, and his easel/setup looks like a gihugic mess. He’s got a palette full of big blobs of oil, and towels everywhere, and tubes of paint all over, etc., etc.

    But he knows where everything is and can hit the ground running whenever he starts painting.

  8. posted by Kate on

    This is perfect for me today. I want room to be creative in my life, so I’m working on organizing things so that I have that space, literally and figuratively!

    I also have to cut myself some slack that I’m not getting there as fast as I would like, because I’m also baby-proofing our house, chasing after 8 month old twins who are now mobile, and frankly, getting a lot of organizing projects done in general because we moved while I was on bedrest and then we were exhausted caring for our twins!

    Thankfully, my parents are coming from out of state this weekend for a visit, so I can put my dad on some projects, like assembling my desk for the creative spot I’m carving out for myself. Yea!

  9. posted by Anita on

    Very good points both in the post and in the comments.

    I second Ruth’s point about organized vs. neat and tidy. Organization is about having your stuff (objects, schedule, whatever) in an order that is logical to you, and that enables you to make the best of it; not about making things pretty for outsiders to look at. I guess in that sense, order is in the eye and mind of its user.

    When uncluttering your home, especially parts of your home that you welcome guests into, it’s important to keep both (organization and neat&tidy) in mind, for everyone’s comfort. When it comes to a private space, like an artist’s studio, the artist’s needs should be paramount; organization should be there to help the creative process, but “neat and tidy” should only be a concern as far as the artist’s comfort is concerned.

  10. posted by TanyaZ on

    I feel like the would benefit so much from converting her archive into an electronic format. The seearch is a lot easier when you can search by the content of the joke, not just by the category. We would benefit from it, too! 🙂

  11. posted by RichardStep on

    Ditto to the ideals presented here. Though I would say organization *can assist* the creative process. Pure organization and lack-of-freedom, without focus on initial stimulus progressing to the realization of the unconscious flow, can be VERY detrimental to the creative process.

    I know I have some pretty detailed notes, drawings, and spreadsheets to assist me in my works… but they’re just that… assistive devices.

    Think of organization/planning skills as a water hose nozzle – you either just spew creativity in a haphazard and inefficient manner without a nozzle, or you add the super deluxe model and create a high-pressure stream of awesome that helps all of your creative dreams come true.

    Good article and thank you for bringing up this fine point. Kudos!

  12. posted by André on

    Good point, this will help me to be more focussed on the task at hand.

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