creativity vs busyness


I want to talk about creativity, work and managing the logistics of a household, three children and a currently-regularly-abroad husband. The short version; it’s not easy.

The long version; after having our third child (Percy - well, theoretically Persephone, but she is rarely at home to anything other than Percy) my creativity at some point fell off a cliff. To be honest I was so busy with the demands of three children and the job that was, at the time, my main source of income, that I didn’t even notice it happen. But over the years I noticed that I didn’t seem to make time to sew or knit or come up with mad new ideas for businesses (I suspect that Adam was less than heartbroken about that last one) or any of the other things that I would put under that very broad banner being a creative person.

At the beginning of September though, life shifted. Percy started school, marking the end of almost exactly a decade of juggling childcare with self employment (Teddy, the oldest, has just turned 10). And it was like a light turned back on in my brain. Mad ideas started to flow again (Adam is thrilled), sewing suddenly felt like a crucial activity again, and I started and finished my first knit project in perhaps two years in the shape of a gloriously rich mustard hat. The hat was simple and satisfying and a timely reminder of what inspires me when I’m working with textiles - colour, texture and simple but impeccable design and quality.

I mentioned in passing to my sister a week or two ago how much more creative and ‘sparky’ I feel since the level of ‘busy’ in my life dropped. And, to her credit, she managed to contain her eye roll as she pointed out that her entire masters dissertation (which I edited) was based around exactly that exact subject.

On revisiting her work, and falling down a bit of an online rabbit hole on the topic, I discovered that countless studies (many of them discussed at length in the aforementioned dissertation) have shown that when our brains are taken up with fire fighting and short term problem solving and logistics, we simply cannot make the neural connections necessary to come up with creative ideas and solutions. We might, for instance, be able to solve a short term issue that crops up time and again at work, but we’re so busy doing so that we never have the headspace to come up with a creative new solution that prevents that problem recurring each time rather than fighting it when it does.

It turns out that our brains need downtime, idle thinking, the space to follow ideas and the freedom of the daydream to make new connections and come up with creative ideas and solutions. The ideal scenario for creative thinking seems to be a combination of logical, linear, structured thought and unstructured, wild, free thinking time. This free time seems to give the brain the space to look sideways at the problems faced during the linear organised thinking time, to work around the issue from all sides and to come up with an entirely new answer which might never have occurred if one simply sat and assessed the situation face on.

Dragging ourselves back from the general to the specifics of creativity and work: it was immensely satisfying for me to have my gut feeling, that I have spent the last month coming out of a creative hibernation, confirmed as reality. Having space and time (and silence. Blissful silence. I love my children fiercely, but crikey they are loud) has enabled me to really look at my work situation and see that where I am now is not where I want to be. I want to produce actual things, to come up with new ideas and products that bring the celebration of home that we try to bring into our space wherever possible into other people’s homes too. I want to share my love of texture, of colour and design and impeccable quality and textiles and beauty in simplicity that make my soul do whatever it is that is the internal equivalent of cupping one’s hands round the first mug of steaming tea of the day and looking out at the frost on autumn leaves.

If you’ve found the same, it might be worth exploring ways in which you can free up some creative ‘space’ of your own. Yes, I’ve been busy for the best part of a decade, but a lot of it has been of my own making. If I’d been aware of the block that this busyness put on my creativity, I could have explored some solutions. For you it might be blocking out a few hours once or twice a week or a month to simply let your mind wander, to do whatever takes your fancy. It could have a massive positive impact on your creativity and, potentially, your business.

I have so much more I could say here. I could bemoan the glorification of busy and how we all fall victim to it (me more than most in recent years, perhaps), but that brings the discussion full circle back to the whole slow/intentional living thing, and I think we’d be here all week while I discuss that. But I think there’s probably more to discuss in the future on the subject of time and creativity and how we can make space for it.

Round these parts right now though, letting myself have some time for pure creativity means that ideas are simmering, samples are being sewn, and I’m looking forward to showing you what I’ve been working on in the coming weeks.