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The Structure of Creativity

This is a reprint, with slight alterations, of a newsletter article I did a few years ago.  I'm reposting it after several recent conversations with people telling me that they don't like to-do lists and schedules and things because they feel restricted, boxed in, constrained.  But there's also a lot of talk about not getting much of anything done, and I really think the two things--resistance to structure and lack of progress--are connected.

I've noticed something about we creative types. We like to feel free and wild, flying around the
aether with our creativity spreading behind us like wings. Structure? Bah! We don't want structure!
We're free. You can't put us in a box!Jellyfish

The thing is, without structure we often lack focus and direction. We float along, shapeless, like
jellyfish pushed and pulled by the tides. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be a jellyfish.

Here's an important secret—structure is not our enemy. It's more like the skeleton we hang our
creativity on, the underlying form that helps us determine what direction our work will go in. At an
immediate, project by project level, structure is deciding that you'll work on a painting today instead of
a novel or work on photo editing instead of an art quilt. It helps us get things done by keeping us from
trying to do everything all at once.

There are also greater structures in our lives that help us feed and nurture our creativity, things that
make it easier to create when we want to. Some of these are the same things that help us get to work on
time, get ready for bed, buy groceries for the week. Our daily, weekly, monthly routines can become a
structure to help us shape our creative time and space.

Structure adds form and substance and beauty to our creativity.
Structure adds form and substance and beauty to our creativity.

I know the word “routine” sometimes has a bad reputation. We frequently use it as a synonym for
“dull” or “boring.” But having routines keeps us from having to reinvent the wheel over and over to do
the things we need to do. If you create and choose your routines with intention and thoughtfulness,
with an eye to making time and space for your creativity, your routines can become the structure that
lets your creativity thrive.

So how do you build a structure for your creativity? The same way construction workers build a house
—one beam at a time. This is especially important if you are a multi-creative. Don't try to force long
stretches of time to work on all of your creative pursuits every week. Start out either by choosing a
favorite creative pastime and working that into your life regularly or by finding a particular time each
week (for me, it's Thursday evenings) and dedicate that time to doing whatever creative thing pulls you
when the time comes.

Work this new piece into your existing structure—you're building an addition, not creating an entirely
new dwelling. Look at your routines and your schedule, decide what is and isn't working and tweak
things to make them work better, then find the places where adding in creative time will work best. I'll
go back to the Thursday evenings I mentioned as an example. For me, my regular schedule leaves me
with the whole house to myself on Thursdays after work, so this is a natural time to work on creative
projects.

Once your new addition has become a comfortable, regular part of your life, look around for the next
place you can add on to your routine. Eventually, as with building anything, if you work steadily and
thoughtfully, you will have a life structure that will leave you the time and space you need for your
creativity. You'll be able to do the things you want, and your Muse will thank you for it every day.


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10 thoughts on “The Structure of Creativity

  1. Jeanie

    Hi Kim, just the other day my accupuncturist said to me " the body loves a routine!" I totally agree with the way a gentle repetitive flow can help us move into our own rhythms and allow for what wants to come forth creatively. Thanks for sharing your insights here!

    1. Kim

      Hi Jeanie--I love that saying "the body loves a routine." Also love the idea of moving into our own rhythms and allowing what wants to come forth. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Indigene Theresa Gaskin

    As a child artist, I love creating with no restrictions/schedules or opinions! But now, that I'm older, I appreciate structure, and at times if I don't have it, I'm less inclined to finish what I start! So I agree, that structure is good, but just allow it to be that a structure, not a statement in concrete; there's a difference. 🙂 This was a wonderful post!

    1. Kim

      Thank you, Indigene! I agree--structure is not the goal, it's a tool that helps you do what you want to do. And you have to find what works for you--for me it's looser, with lists of a few things to do each day (except weekends) and rarely anything scheduled for a particular time slot. Finding your way is the way to go.

  3. Tami Chacon

    Oh structure - love it, hate it all in the same breath. This is a timely post for me. Moving out of my routine day to day job, needing to find a new structure for my creativity. Scary and exciting!

    1. Kim

      I always hated the idea of structure, too! Then I realized I can build my own, and suddenly it wasn't so bad. 😀 Good luck with the changes, Tami!

  4. Deanna

    It may seem odd but I do think structure sometimes necessary for creativity, otherwise it is simply to easy to let it go and not make it a priority. Thank you for the reminder.

  5. Kim

    Deanna, it doesn't seem odd to me at all. So many people I know have found themselves laid off over the past few years, and every one of them says the same thing--having all that time with no set structure to the days left them making less stuff instead of more. It happened to me several years ago when I was laid off, too. I had all these grand plans for what I'd do with all that open time while I looked for work, and it turned out there was too much open time and I got hardly anything done.

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