When Creative Machinery Goes Haywire, Distrusting the Process Serves a Writer Well


I’m thinking a lot today about process.

We talk endlessly about our creative processes: how to audit them, how to improve them, how to determine whether they are useful and efficient, when to overhaul them, and when to tweak them.

But undergirding all of these conversations is one assumption: that process matters. That most of us genuinely require express processes to do our work well.

And undergirding that assumption is a fundamental aversion to the premise of tossing a cherished process aside in response to spontaneous or unanticipated opportunities and constraints.

Chaos Theory asserts that systems of all sorts can be incredibly sensitive to tiny changes; that you can’t change one thing, even if it’s miniscule, without altering the behavior of the whole system further down the line.

That might be true. But it shouldn’t scare us off of being responsive to the unexpected. Because the chaos is already there. It’s pre-baked in to every single thing you’ll ever try to get done during your tenure on earth, in a million tiny ways.

Butterfly wings flapping, pools of water rippling outward, mountains and buildings crumbling to dust—this is the nature of the universe we live in: beautiful and itself deeply creative, but, like many of us creative humans, also kind of an ungodly mess.

You have a way you like to do things. That’s great. You probably have good reasons for setting up your work and your life in the ways you have.

But the kingdom won’t fall if you ditch out on those beloved notions of how the work gets done once in awhile. Sometimes, the most useful response to all this inherently chaotic phenomena is to flap and flow right along with it. To throw out the broken laptop and write on a napkin. To quit a project halfway through because it got too big for the time you allotted it. To ditch your day’s work and treat your tired corpse to an afternoon nap instead.

When plans go haywire, processes often lose their effectiveness and value anyway. In such moments, your best bet might well be to throw out the bloody map and let your circumstances dictate your approach. Just for today. Just for this week. Just for this month.

Soon enough, the butterflies will stop with all that raucous flapping, the pond sediments will settle, and you’ll be free to return to your regularly scheduled processing. I promise.