Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Do You Work Better With Chaos or Order?

by Gina Ardito

Years ago, when my son was in elementary school, his class held a Mother's Day tea. During the event, in front of my son, his classmates, and all the other moms, his teacher pointed out my boy's desk, remarking quite loudly how "messy" it was. If she was hoping to embarrass me or my child, she chose the wrong mom and son.

"Remind me," I said. "What's my son's grade average in your class?"

"High nineties," she replied. "He's a straight-A student."

"Has he missed any assignments or homework?" I asked.

"Well, no. But if you look at how disorganized his desk is--"

"Does he share his desk with another student?"


"You haven't seen my desk at home," I told her. "To anyone else, it seems totally disorganized, messy, and impossible to navigate. But to me, it's 'creative chaos.' It's how I work best. And apparently, my son is the same way. So until his grades falter, he starts missing assignments, or he's sharing space with someone else, I'm not going to worry that his method doesn't meet your expectations. The results meet mine."

I think I became a hero to my son in that moment. I didn't exaggerate the condition of my own work desk. At any given moment, my desk overflows with notes, research books, photos, coffee cups, snacks, and various tchotchkes to keep my muse entertained. While I write, there'll be music playing or a television on in the background, or both. I don't plot or outline. I barely know my characters when I start Chapter One for any story. I throw myself into the storm of ideas and noise and clutter. And then I work my way out from the midst of the madness to create my art.

I thrive on chaos. I set unrealistic deadlines. I paint my characters into impossible corners with no method of getting them out. I throw caution to the wind over and over again. And yet, somehow, it all works out for me in the end. Every single time. This is my process. Crazy? Maybe. But who said creativity has to be sensible?

I guess my son takes after me. Judging by the condition of his bedroom vs. his high grade point average, the scholarships he was offered, and the fact that every college he applied to this year accepted him as an incoming freshman in the fall, this system (or lack thereof) works for him, too.

The thing is, when it comes to creativity, there is no right or wrong. There just is. I know several writers and other artists who need total silence, perfect order, and pristine conditions to work. Some use white boards and Post-It notes and map out every facet of the story before they type a word. Others toss themselves into the abyss like me. And still others find a combination of neat/chaos that works best for them.

As long as the end result is something beautiful, what difference does it make how we get there?

And in case it wasn't obvious, the mug in the photo above sits on my desk--a gift from my son. "Creative chaos is better than idle neatness."


  1. I live in chaos promising every day that I will clean up my act. No such luck. This is my life. I've learned to adapt to the mess. Glad I am not alone

  2. Definitely not alone, Kathye! If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

  3. Part of me longs for order, but another (I like to think wiser) part knows it's a trap trying to turn me into a knickknack duster. I do my best when I'm under pressure.

  4. Yep. I'm a whirlpool of confusion. Somehow, it seems to congeal in the end though. One of my kids is a neat-nik, but so often, it becomes an excuse for procrastination. Hmmm. Not at this moment however, (she notes as she trips over the kids boots in the middle of my writing space.) :)
    Good for you for defending your son's "organizational style".