Being inside the chrysalis, amongst the creative gloop

Last year, I needed to really focus, really hide myself away and immerse myself in a new project – a big one. I started to tell people that I wouldn’t be around for a bit, I would probably be turning down invites etc.crysallis

As I entered this phase, it really felt like I was a caterpillar, creating a chrysalis around myself in readiness for transformation. As I thought about this metaphor more and more, I looked up what actually happens in the stages of forming a chrysalis and transforming into a butterfly. I knew it would help me, but bear with me…

1) First the caterpillar digs his end feet into the twig and creates a small link (apologies if they are not called feet, I am not a biologist).
2) Then he lowers his head and rest of body down into a J shape
3) Then he spins the cocoon around himself
4) Then his body breaks down into a sticky gloop
5) The cleaver DNA use this cellular gloop to build a butterfly
6) He then breaks out of the cocoon and flutters off all pretty

OK. So here’s how I decided that this bit of Biomimicry could help me and others work with their creative process whether its writing a thesis, developing a business plan, painting a picture or something else.

1) Digging your feet in: to me this was a two-fold process of grounding myself internally and being quite stubborn about taking the time needed. You need to make it know that you are working on something, that you are going to be boundaried and also know internally that you are willing to ground yourself in this process/project.
2) This feels like a very trusting stage, where you do need to let go. The caterpillar is letting go of the whole twig apart from the small thread link. Trusting and letting go.
3) Spin yourself a cocoon. This might mean cancelling stuff, getting ready meals in, creating a more secluded, creative space to work in. Prepare your work environment.
4) The gloop – Creative Chaos. The messy, non-linear place from which great things come. To me this is requires a lot of courage and trusting. Learning to be ok with creative chaos and understand it has taken me a long time. It also requires letting go of ways of doing that you are maybe holding onto too tightly. Being willing to destroy, burn, tear up stuff :)
5) Creating form. In this phase, it can seem like you just have a muddle, that there are so many ideas, fragments of stuff going on, nothing is whole or gets completed. If you try and make order too soon, you may miss out on something really amazing. Developing good resilience and being able to sit with this chaos is key. Wait for something to emerge, notice the patterns that start to arise. Watch as the dots seem to start joining up. Let your creative DNA do the work of putting it all together.
6) That glorious time when you suddenly see what you have created. It has emerged…and its not always a butterfly…

For me, the bit that is hardest to manage, is the gloop. You can really feel like you are not getting anywhere, and that you are wasting your precious time. That you are just playing at whatever you are doing. The need to produce something of value, straight away, can really inhibit creativity. I think this is a really hard thing to get. We view our time as so precious that playing and experimenting is seen as a waste of time, but it’s often only in that messy, chaotic place, that really brilliant ideas appear.

It’s also difficult in the creative gloop, especially if you have been in it for a while and are still producing seemingly unrelated thing/bits/ideas etc. I spoke to a client yesterday who functions best by working on several pieces of written work at a time, in fact she produced a whole systematic review in a day and a half! She had gathered all the pieces, mulled them over, let them be for a bit and then in a sudden flurry, put it all together…against formal advice but this is the way she works best. It just takes a lot of trust and resilience to know that at some point it will come together.

Creative people often work best in chaotic, busy, messy environments. I remember seeing the picture of the inside of Francis Bacon’s studio for the first time and thinking “yes I would really love to work inside that” He did Creative Gloop really well and I have started to allow myself be a lot more messy in my studio and study, rather than tidying up too much.

It’s working and since understanding my creativity better, I have been working better, more productively and have felt less stressed about my work – I have done some of the best writing and painting for years! It was staying in the chrysalis that helped this happen and I invite you to get inside and explore your own creative gloop. Enjoy. x

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