REVIEW by Robert Beck
I’ve been working my way through Sheila Chandra’s book Organizing for Creative People: How to Channel the Chaos of Creativity into Career Success. The book is a veritable bible of helpful tips and ideas to turn someone from a walking disaster zone into a streamlined and employable creative powerhouse.
The best thing about this book is that Chandra knows what she’s talking about. After many years as a well-known and respected singer and song writer, she is now turning her hand to helping others achieve the success that she has enjoyed. And what does she put her success down to? Organisation.
There are a lot of very talented artists out there who make fantastic work but who never get the recognition they deserve. Often, this is because their work space resembles a war zone and they can no more knock together a press release or impactive marketing campaign than fly! This is where Chandra’s book is so helpful.
What’s even better is that this is not a long book, nor is it particularly dense. The author doesn’t waste much time pussy-footing around the issues and gets right to it: if you want recognition for your work and you’re looking for success then you should ditch the idea right away that chaos results in creativity. It doesn’t!
Whether you’re a painter, a singer, or an actor, it’s vital to maintain a tidy working space and to treat yourself like a business which needs to be constantly managed. It’s the total opposite to the oft-touted stereotype of the “lazy creative” – the kind of person who lies around all day, smoking, drinking, and just waiting for that one idea to strike them which will make them rich and famous. In this scenario, all that usually happens is the “creative” slides deeper into the mess they’ve made and even if that idea does come – eventually – they have no idea how to produce it, market it, or sell it.
Chandra’s opening section – “Physical Space” – starts with ways that you can organise the places you work in. Some tips may seem blindingly simple like clearing room on your desk so that you can actually work on it, or throwing away that pile of magazines you’ve been keeping on the off-chance you’ll actually read them one day.
Others may take a little more effort such as laying your studio/room out as a series of work-stations – one for each of the creative tasks you do on a daily basis – based around factors such as where is the best light, proximity to certain tools you might be using, or even just proximity to the kitchen so you don’t waste time walking back and forth to grab coffee. Each idea is carefully designed to systemise your working environment and create a clutter-free space to create in.
Only once you have a tidy space, where you can access the implements you need to create the work and where you’re not spending half the day searching for that one A4 page that’s got lost amongst the rubbish, can you begin to think about some of the more complex tasks that go hand-in-hand with being a self-employed creative. It boils down to that old adage – “tidy space, tidy mind”.
Chandra’s argument is that you can’t possibly have the brain space to deal with creating a PR campaign or doing a tax return if your physical space isn’t organised. So while the first half of her book might not seem particularly ground-breaking, it’s a vital step for any creative person to take to ensure that both your physical and mental spaces are efficiently ordered.
With your working environment now organised, the second half of her book – entitled “Head Space” – is where it gets interesting. Drawing for her own experiences as a creative professional, as well as from being on the other side of the table and working with creatives like the street artist STIK (who incidentally wrote the foreword for the book), Chandra lays down some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to launching a creative career.
These involve managing yourself and your brand effectively, learning how to make social media work for you, and surrounding yourself with the right people who can help you with tasks such as accountancy and publicity.
Again, the concepts are far from revolutionary and are largely just common sense, but the style of writing is open and honest and the advice is sound and easy to follow. In a world where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to break into the creative industries, Chandra is determined to give as many people a leg-up as she can. One of the book’s charms is how orderly and methodical it is (for a book about being organised, this isn’t a huge surprise).
It’s recommended that you treat the book as a guide and read it from cover to cover. While there may be sections that you don’t need to read in quite as much depth as others, it’s a process and one that is best absorbed whole, rather than in bits.
The only way to truly judge the book’s success is to read it and try the ideas out for yourself. However, take it from me as a creative person, one who is on his own journey to achieve recognition and career success, this book was a great little companion that has genuinely given me some practical tips that I can use to ensure both my physical workspace and mental headspace are running as efficiently as they can. Ultimately, the book isn’t going to teach you how to be a better artist – that comes from you – but if you are struggling to be creative then maybe it’s because you’re still stuck in a chaotic pattern.
What Sheila Chandra has done is show us how to use that chaotic creativity and to channel it into career success. They’re simple tricks but all highly effective – give them a go and find out for yourself.
‘Organizing for Creative People: How to Channel the Chaos of Creativity into Career Success’ by Sheila Chandra is published by Watkins.
Robert Beck is a theatrical director and performer living in London. He also works as PA and admin assistant for urban LIFECLASS. Follow him on Twitter @robertjamesbeck