I work in chaos. Plus, I’m very visual and I need to see ALL my bits of notes and ideas and outlines in one bird’s-eye grasp. So I scatter them around me at my desk, or the floor, or (as is often the case) the cafe bench where I’ve set up shop for the morning.
Also, my eyes and brain respond better to handwritten and hardcopy things. (My advice to young writers is to handwrite their story outline first.) Whether it’s the supermarket receipt with my scrawl-of-a-thought or the serviette from the cafe where I got my great intro paragraph idea for my next book, these messy, tangible things trigger my best creative thinking.
I’m in good company, apparently.
Albert Einstein had a desk that “looked like a spiteful ex-girlfriend had a mission to destroy (my) workspace.” Which, apart from anything else, is a fabulously evocative bit of descriptor.
Einstein would also say, in defense of his chaos:
“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?”
What is it that makes chaos so conducive to creativity? I think it’s the contrast. Doing the opposite can trigger freshness.
Also, I think it’s about “being where you are”, not trying to find the perfect conditions for being creative. Actually, that’s definitely it. Sitting in grimness, or banality, or imperfection, like a kid that’s perfectly, spontaneously happily sitting in the puddle of mud she found herself tripping into is wonderfully productive. Mostly because you’ve eliminated the distraction of seeking perfection.
What works for you?