By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 7, 2009
Chaos. The Big Bang. Crap flying everywhere.
Imagine ourselves back at the beginning of time. The universe is raw energy, blasting at light-speed in all directions. (Stay with me, this is going somewhere). What happens? As time passes, electrons coalesce around nuclei. Molten matter cools; stars and planets form into spheres. Celestial objects find paths and settle into orbits. The gravity of one star system counteracts the fields of others. Galaxies appear. Order emerges.
On planets where liquids exist, rivers form and run downhill. Seas arise. Atmospheres stabilize. Before you know it, we’ve got adventurous fish crawling out onto dry land, hominids beating each other’s brains out with rocks, and guys with pocket protectors doing IPOs for software companies.
The chaos of our art
What about your novel? Is Resistance telling you your material is too big, too sprawling, too out of control? Bullshit.
The universe is self-organizing. That’s a law. We artists and entrepreneurs are too, and so are our dreams and aspirations. We have a mighty ally on our side. The Law of Self-Ordering. It’s as infallible as gravity and it’s our friend.
Do you believe me? It’s 1850, let’s say, and we want to write a novel about whaling.
How Moby Dick wrote itself
We’ve got a dark view of life; we believe the universe is composed of primal forces in eternal opposition to one another so … how about a whale and a whaling captain? Now that’s a clash! It’s organic, it’s believable. But what should this skipper look like? Johnny Depp? Matt Damon? Wait, how about a peg-leg and a scar? A beard, a fiery brow. We’ll dress him in black–
See what I mean by self-organizing? Let’s turn to our whale. He’s gotta be huge, we know that. With bent and corkscrewed harpoons sticking out of his hide from all the whalers he’s fought and defeated. But what color should he be? We want him as primal and scary as possible, so … green? blue? Ooh, white. Now we’re getting somewhere! How about a name? Bangalore Ben? Marshmallow Mike? Give us a minute, we’ll come up with something …
Chaos is self-organizing
Books wanna be what they wanna be. So do albums, entrepreneurial ventures, and statues of David. Our job as artists is to heed these half-formed, as-yet-unmanifested galaxies within us and help them to be what they want to be.
I saw Jurassic Park so I’ve heard of Chaos Theory. Its thesis, I believe, is that all things and systems devolve eventually into chaos. I beg to differ. I think anarchy matures over time into order.
Our symphony evolves into four movements, our screenplay into three acts. If we keep plugging away, the Law of Self-Ordering comes to our aid. How, specifically, does this manifest itself?
Ideas come to us in the shower. We achieve a breakthrough riding on the subway. All at once, musical themes that seemed to bear no relation to one other discover a common harmonic and come together. Our sprawling novel finds its center of gravity; now we can cut 300 not-on-theme pages and voila! The damn thing coheres. It works.
Chaos (including the chaos of our nascent businesses and works of art) is self-organizing. All we have to do is keep working and give it the chance.