This new year, I plunged into my blog with fresh excitement. I opened a new document, took a deep breath, and immediately froze. Nothing whatsoever came to mind.
Has this ever happened to you?
The stream of consciousness went a bit like this: "New Year, new page! Yay! Wait a second, that's a blank page. Blank page?! I have no idea what to write, I don't even know where to start, what am I going to do? Brain fog, brain fog, brain fog...
It was at that moment that my Mom stepped in. (I have the pleasure of spending the holidays with family this year.) She went into her closet and started slapping notebooks on the bed. Over the years she'd been collecting quotes that inspire her. Her notebooks were full, and mine was empty, so I cracked them open and started reading, and randomly copied everything that moved me.
The first quote to catch my attention was by Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein:
"Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos."
It occurred to me, for better or for worse, a little chaos forces us to make new mental connections and create new ideas. Chaos is a massive impetus for writing. When life is problematic or out of control, it pushes us back to the page where we can make sense of it all.
However, that doesn't mean we have to throw our lives into bedlam in order to churn out new material. Not at all. A preferable alternative is "The Chaos Date."
A chaos date is simply an indulgence in random ideas, art or inspiration. The only rule is you can't be looking for anything specific, instead just start imbibing a wide scope of stimulation that you weren't familiar with before. It can happen online, in a museum, on a trip, or even in the comfort of your room with piles of notebooks strewn all over the bed. Just let a glut of information flow in without any direct agenda.
This positive practice of chaos got me out of my old thought patterns and helped me think about something new. New year, new page, new thoughts! Isn't that what all that excitement is supposed to be about? That's when I came upon another quote during my chaos date, this one by Meredith Walker, a highly creative television executive:
"Time spent being carefree is time building a more interesting you."
Let's face it, as we prioritize our New Years Goals, write our outlines, and plan our editorial calendars, we can get pretty agenda driven. However these projects will turn out to be pretty drab, unless we allow ourselves to be surprised be something.
That's the other element of chaos that makes it so rich for writing, it's everything we can't control. As writers we can always put the chaos on the page. When things don't turn out exactly as planned, look for the lesson, and then write a reflection about it. After all, if you use life's problems as inspiration, you're sure to become a prolific writer.
Wherever you are, stuck in traffic, or sunning yourself on your favorite beach in the world, make the most of it, and connections will come together. Even if something feels irrelevant to the life you want to create, writing will help you bring it back together.
Which brings me to the final quote of my Chaos Date, which pretty much wrapped it up for me. This one is by Dorothy Day, mover, shaker and founder of the Catholic Worker Movement:
"Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul."
It's strange to admit it, but a little chaos really feeds the soul. It forces you to grow. When you transform chaos into something more beautiful than it was before, it's a little like charting the evolution of your own soul. That's what words do for me, and really it's the underlying purpose of any art.
I'm so grateful for the time I was granted to go through the chaos of my mother's notebooks. As I finish reading over this blog, I'm on a plane going back to my real life in Colombia, and it's hard not to get sentimental. In my family, 2017 brought a fair share of chaos. We had some good surprises and some bad. After all, I launched this business and this blog! And since I did that, everything has been food for the soul, cooked up and served through words.
If you want to make a chaos date for yourself. Think of a word that would really help you writing this year: inspiration, confidence, resilience... you choose. Then open a new tab on your computer and do a quote search about that word. Inspiration quotes, resilience quotes, etc. Start scribbling down whatever moves you. It feels great.
Happy 2018!! If you want to keep pace and get some great community support for your writing, be sure to join the Facebook group too!