Before You Write, Start Cleaning

Posted on May 14, 2014 by Joe B

einstein messy desk.jpg

Besides revolutionizing physics and doing amazing things that most writers can’t do well, like math, Albert Einstein was also an inspiration to messy desk enthusiasts.

Perhaps you may even have a poster of his famous quote: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Some of us are quite proud of our cluttered writing areas – part of it may be that it can be great fun to focus on the craft, less on the responsibility of keeping up the place.

Or maybe it’s part of our writing ritual – if we’ve been lucky enough to publish something, or even had some particularly productive periods of writing in our messy zone, it’s likely we may want to do whatever we can to recreate these creative conditions.

Or, perhaps, as much as we hate it when people point it out, there’s a possibility we could be on the messy side ourselves.

But that’s OK! Everyone, from freelance content writers to members of in-house corporate teams, can do a little tidying up before you begin writing, whether it’s actually breaking out the elbow grease or at least performing symbolic housekeeping.

Here are some easy strategies for sprucing up:

· Clean out the trash. In your literal work place, you may have garbage that probably should go before you sit down. You can also dump your mental dumpster containing negative thoughts and self-doubt. If you’re at the point where the public feels free to comment on your work, toss any negative opinions too.

· Prepare your tools. This can also be literal and symbolic. If you’re a longhand writer, make sure your pens and pencils are arranged and ready to go. But don’t sidetrack yourself by spending the afternoon sharpening every pencil. We’re so easily distracted, aren’t we? If you use a portable keyboard or laptop, make sure all your devices are fully charged.

· It’s all about presentation. You don’t have to create a lovely floral arrangement or perform Feng Shui to get your room’s chi energy flowing in a good writer-ly direction. But you can create some kind of feeling in your space that convinces you to sit down and work and not get up every couple of minutes to adjust something.

· Clean up when you’re done. To adapt the phrase in every corporate kitchen, your mother doesn’t work here, but you do, so only you are responsible for how it looks. The more you tidy up at the end of a session, the less time you’ll spend on preparation rituals next time and can actually devote more time to active writing.

Don’t get us wrong – we’re not telling you to always focus on creating and maintaining an absolutely clean surface.

Inspirational writer Laura Vanderkam says she prefers to “nest” by surrounding herself with the tools to help her current project, from pieces of paper to all sorts of sticky notes. She maintains that an immaculate writing area may actually stifle creative expression.

Joe B hasn’t seen the surface of his writing desk in 6 years, when he moved. He’s worked at a variety of newspapers for the past 20 years, where colleagues fully expect to find him buried under an avalanche of old papers and books some morning when his file cabinet bursts.


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