Creativity Lesson: Space
I stopped at Panera once, eight months pregnant, to satisfy a bread craving. I ordered the half-sandwich/bowl of soup combo, and when asked what I’d like my side to be, I whispered, “bread.” Yes, you read that correctly. I opted for bread on the side of my sandwich. I ordered this lunch to go because even in my obvious pregnant state, I felt embarrassed by the amount of carbs on one plate.
As I approached my car in the parking lot, I noticed there was another car parked really close to mine. I awkwardly shimmied between the two cars, unlocked my doors, and quickly realized I could not squeeze my gigantic belly into my own car.
There simply wasn’t enough space.
I stood there for a minute contemplating my options, getting hangrier and hangrier. Should I wait for the owner of the other car to show up? How long would that take? I could smell the bread in my bag. No. Waiting was not an option.
So, I did what any other pregnant lady would (probably?) do in my situation: I climbed into my driver’s seat through the passenger side. And yes, people were staring. And yes, I grunted a lot. I may have said a bad word (okay, two bad words). It was quite the ordeal. But hey—five minutes later I was driving home, one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding a piece of half-eaten bread. #winning.
All that to say: space was the first thing I gave up when I became a mom.
First, I gave up literal space in my body. Then my home office was converted into a nursery. The cute clothes in my closet were pushed aside to make room for maternity jeans and flattering potato sacks. My kitchen cabinets filled up with baby bottles and breast pump accessories, while my yoga mat was tossed out of the car to make room for a new carseat.
And it wasn’t just the physical space; mental space disappeared just as quickly. New motherhood propelled me into an entirely new inner dialogue: sleep training methods, growth charts, is he eating enough? Is he warm enough? What is this rash and how do I get rid of it and will his hair ever grow in on the top?
Motherhood resulted in less space in my home, less space in my body, and less space in my own brain, which is ironic because more space was actually growing in my heart.
When I talk to fellow mothers who are struggling to create, the number one hindrance I hear is this: I don’t have enough space in my life to be creative.
And I get it. Boy, do I get it. These children we love so much have inundated every aspect of our lives. Every time we turn around, there they are. Their needs are great, their requests are plentiful, and their toys are everywhere.
Creating the space to create can be a creative challenge in itself (say that three times fast). We have to be strategic with our time and innovative with our childcare. We have to find room in our own minds to quiet the to-do lists and worries that accompany motherhood. We have to rearrange our schedules and train ourselves to catch inspiration when inspiration strikes. And perhaps most importantly: we have to reclaim space for ourselves to be able to think and create, which starts with believing it is worthy of reclamation.
Virginia Woolf famously wrote that a woman needs “money and a room of one’s own in order to write fiction,” but I think this idea can be applied to all creative tasks. Of course, we could all use money for lots of things, but this lesson is about space, so I’m going to pay more attention to the “room of one’s own” element. As Ashlee noted, we have to reclaim space for ourselves, but the type of space we crave for creativity is heavily influenced by our personality.
For example, I crave open, unplanned space that feels spontaneous. I need this both physically and mentally. I have never written at a desk for any extended period of time and have no desire to start any time soon. I used to do my homework on my bedroom floor in high school, and I’m still most comfortable on my couch or my bed (I’m typing this on my bed right now!). Sometimes I’ll plop down at the kitchen table, but that’s usually for a final edit or a 2nd/3rd revision of a draft. I rarely write a first draft in a structured space. I need sprawl.
Additionally, I need outdoor space (I really connected with the Dixie Chicks in my adolescence). I need to run outside, climb around in a nature preserve with my kids, go for a walk, and I need to move my body regularly. If my body is stagnant, my mind will be stagnant, and I know I need to free up space inside my head in order for me to successfully use the space around me for productive work.
Do you find inspiration in chaos or pleasure in calm? Can you work in a mess? Do you need a well-swept floor and an uncluttered calendar? Could you fit in a creative task in a quick 30-minute spurt of energy or do you need three uninterrupted hours just to get started?
If you aren’t familiar with the Myers Briggs Personality Type Inventory test, then I encourage you to pause this lesson and complete the test. It only takes 12 minutes, and it will really help you get the most out of the remaining material: Take Test Here.
I’ve taken this test numerous times over the years, and I am always an ENTP. Because of this personality type, I tend to thrive on certain elements of change. Knowing that a situation may remain relatively the same for the foreseeable future is a creative killer. This is why in thinking up an office space or workspace, I know I need multiple seating options and considerable floor space. I need windows and natural light. In my dream office, I would have French Doors that lead out to a patio. Do I have this space? No. We have a guest room with a couch in it, and I often work from there. I can spread out and shut the door, and this is a passable option for creative work. Because a free-flowing atmosphere is important to me and I have three small children, I seek out creative space elsewhere. There was a season where I wrote from the back of my minivan while my son rode his bike up and down the driveway as his sister napped in the house. I had fresh air, space to spread out, a baby monitor, some iced coffee, just enough shade to see my laptop screen, and a fully-occupied preschooler: dream (for me).
When it comes to Myers Briggs and Creativity, there are four creative temperaments:
- NFs (Intuitive Feelers) are poetic and personal. NFs are all about people.
- NTs (Intuitive Thinkers) are experimental and complex. NTs are all about ideas and systems.
- SJs (Sensing Judgers) are realistic and traditional. SJs play by the rules.
- SPs (Sensing Perceivers) are dramatic and flexible. SPs play for thrills.
These temperament descriptions aren’t meant to put you in a box, but they are designed to give you insight. Are you an S who needs incense or candles in order to set the mood? Or an E who thrives on group discussion and wants constant co-working?
Creative space is not one-size-fits-all, just like creative people are not all the same. This month, we want you to embrace your unique personality and create space for you to make something beautiful.
Ask yourself to fill in the blank here: I could create everyday if only I had ____________________ space.
Skip the obvious answers about napping babies, and PTA meetings, and school pick-up schedules and think about the things you want/need to set yourself up for success.
Ask yourself: Based on what I know of my personality, what do I need? What sounds life-giving? What sounds comfortable?
What rituals or routines can I create for myself that will help me make space to create? Brainstorm a list then spend a couple days trying out different methods (Will the sound of the tea kettle get you in the writing mood? Do you have some preschool mornings or childcare swaps that you're currently using for grocery shopping, but you could be using for creativity?).
Write a letter to your creative self, focus in on and affirm your creative personality. Write what you do well. Write what you see in your own heart, and write to encourage your creative soul to flourish.