From Chaos To Creativity: Building A Productivity System For Artists And Writers, by Jessie L. Kwak
I always feel a mix of compassion and interest in reading the efforts of people to attempt to systematize for fun and profit those things which tend to be highly individualistic and idiosyncratic in nature. There are many ways that one can be productive and creative, and while there are a few principles that are generally applicable, the specifics and details of how one creates best does depend widely on the individual temperament and personality and approach of the given creator. And the author herself, a fellow Portland writer, acknowledges this, which is all to the better. And although productivity is in the title, this is not a book so much about productivity as it is seeking to avoid those behaviors that sap one’s creativity and therefore encouraging one’s native creativity to break forth into life. This is something I can endorse, not least because the author values reflection as much as creation, and views creativity as part of the overall life of the creator rather than being something that takes over and swallows the creator, as can often be the case when one’s life gets dangerously out of balance.
This book is a bit less than 200 pages long and is divided into various unnumbered chapters. The book begins by discussing that it is not about productivity at all but rather about taming chaos and encouraging creativity (1). After that the author discusses how this book is organized and how it is to be used by the reader (2). This leads to the first big section of the book on planning (I), which contains discussion on gathering one’s tools (3), capturing the chaos (4), identifying one’s priorities (5), organizing projects and tasks (6), and scheduling one’s tasks (7), and repeating the process when one is done. After that the author focuses on working (II), with chapters on understanding our time and energy (8), managing a sustainable workload (9), designing one’s work day (10), working around life (11), dealing with shadow work and willpower (12), getting ahead of distractions (13), and beating procrastination (14). After that there is a discussion of dreaming (III), including how to play (15) and taking time for reflection (16). Finally, the book closes with various tests (IV) including one’s creative schedule, how to collect incoming tasks, and understanding one’s goals, obligations, network, reward system, and passion, with the goal of taking action.
Overall, this book does reflect the thinking of someone who has not only done a fair bit of creating herself but has also thought about her craft and wishes to provide others with some targeted encouragement. In knowing herself and her own struggles and pitfalls to create, she provides plenty of worthwhile insight in how people can create better in such a way that it is part of an overall good life. And, like any practical book of this nature, this book is aimed at encouraging action on the part of the reader and not only the shadow work that comes with reading what one already knows in lieu of acting on said knowledge and putting it into practice. It is easy to recognize those things that sap our productivity and that lead us doing things that end up taking up a lot of time but which have no particular use or worth in the end. The author brings these to light, no doubt from having dealt with her own distractions and struggles, and encourages others to do the same as well. By and large this is a pleasing book that is easy to enjoy and to recommend and that recognizes the variety of ways that people can create better.