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Tolerating Chaos to Create

At least part of creating is a non-linear process involving the inner chaos of divergent thinking and imaginational intensity – and often the outer chaos of messy desks.

Stephen King has commented about his creative mind: “It’s as though something in there is running all the time.”

But this inner process is not easy to articulate or describe to other people.

And there is often a high level of pressure to produce tangible creative results.

As author and entrepreneur Seth Godin put it, “What you do for a living is not be creative, what you do is ship.”

Mary-Elaine Jacobsen notes in her book “The Gifted Adult” that creative people “can feel badgered by a sense that they must constantly deliver winning results, which is why many gifted individuals quit their artistic quests prematurely.”

In American society, she says, “the creative process is rarely seen as its own reward, so the evolutionary must remember that the final product only hints at the aliveness and transcendent power of the process of innovation.”

The creative process may be complex and intricate, and she thinks a “tolerance and preference for intricacy are the characteristics that often make the difference when someone must find creative answers in the face of growing complexity.

“Tolerance and perseverance work together because the Everyday Genius mind is built to tolerate a lack of structure until the pieces of the puzzles begin to line up in some understandable order.”

But that “lining up” – whether solving a scientific research question or engineering challenge, or creating a new music performance or novel – will take whatever time it takes.

Meanwhile, Jacobsen writes, “We are not digging around for answers in a haphazard way, even though it may look that way…we can go off searching in different directions. It empowers us to imagine and wander about in creative thought without getting lost or straying too far from the intended goal.

“This is why creative producers seem so enigmatic. The system that keeps the work moving forward and organized on the inside is invisible in the midst of a desk that looks as though a tornado struck it.”

Also, many gifted and creative people are perfectionistic, even obsessive-compulsive to a degree, so the chaos and messiness of the creative process can be a source of anxiety, stress, and self-criticism.

Chaotic and clueless

In her post “Write Your Book Even When You Feel Clueless,” writing coach Cynthia Morris addresses the uncertainty of writing and other forms of creating:

“The idea for your book seemed so clear. You grabbed the inspiration, made a rough outline, and dove into scribbling your ideas down. Soon enough, your enthusiasm has burbled over into chaos. You lost the thread of logic and your writing just feels like a handful of messy incoherence.

“You may experience any or all of the following signs of cluelessness while writing your book:

* You frequently doubt you have any clue about what you are saying.
* You’re a blank slate when it comes to knowing how to structure your material.
* You wonder if your concepts make sense to anyone but you and your cats…”

Read more of this post and learn about creativity coaching programs by Cynthia Morris on her site Original Impulse.

Seth Godin quotes are from post: Seth Godin on Quieting the Lizard Brain.

One of his books: Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Mary-Elaine Jacobsen quotes are from her book The Gifted Adult.

Photo: Stephen King at his desk, by Jill Krementz in her book The Writer’s Desk, via the post You’re going to lose the day if you keep this up long enough.

It also is used for King’s own book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.


Tolerating Chaos to Create

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Tolerating Chaos to Create. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Jun 2012
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