Check Your Clutter
Is it stealing your time?
April 11, 2019
Like most writers, I'm prone to clutter. Clutter in my office with one deep drawer in my desk where I toss an alarming variety of things. And shelf clutter with all the books I really might read just as soon as I get some free time. Then there's my brain clutter, which is a soup of all the things I read, the news I hear, and the entertainment I consume. I'm hoping that soup produces delicious stories, but it's hard to be sure.
I suspect that creative people tend toward clutter. There's something in the creative mindset that sees more than one possibility in an object and imagines a future where an item is essential. But disorganized clutter can also be a thief of time and it can create a situation where important and valuable things are lost. So it may be time to do a bit of cleaning up.
The Inspiration of Clutter
I try annually to revisit at least one source of extreme clutter. I may go through my writing books to decide if I still need and benefit from them all. I may pull open that terrifying drawer where I toss stuff and go through every piece. I might tackle my document files on my computer. I realize that there is no way I'm going to sort all my clutter, so I try to tackle a challenging but do-able amount. And I find some great things can come of it.
When I've gone through my writing books in the past, I've found tips I'd forgotten. I've also noticed that as my skills have advanced, the way I receive the information in the books has advanced as well. In fact, there is almost no better way to get past extreme writer's block than to decide to organize my writing books. The wealth of inspiration in my collection always breaks right through the block, and I end up brimming with inspiration. In some ways, revisiting my writing books is almost like going on a mini writing retreat. Sure, I know all the books. I've read them before. But by going through them again, I find I am refreshed and inspired every time.
And really, it is time to get a new market guide and get rid of that one from 1999. Things have changed. Time to move on.
Mining the ClutterMy computer clutter is far more insidious than my book clutter. The book clutter is visible on shelves, and it becomes quite clear to anyone passing by that I've continued to horde market guides from a decade ago. But computer clutter sits so quietly and so hidden. By tackling it and putting some order to my natural chaos, I almost always find things that I gave up on but couldn't quite throw away. And with the passage of time, I often see what kept a story from selling. And I might be able to fix it now. Or I might see that I really won't ever fix that piece but there's some great lines in it. So I paste them into my ever growing "quotes for examples" file and finally give in and delete the original piece.
In fact, a very recent pass through my computer clutter uncovered a half-done proposal I'd begun for a detective series. I'm not sure why I never finished the proposal (I suspect time was the problem), but I still like the idea. And the work is already half done. So I moved the proposal to my desktop to work on it now and send out. And I'm especially excited to see it as I'm beginning to see "mysteries" turn up in lists of things publishers would like to see. Mysteries had gone through something of a slump, but I believe they're coming back, and I have a proposal half-done. Yay!
I know the time for computer clean-up has come for me because it's taking entirely too long to find things on my computer. One thing about good organization: it's more efficient. So for discovery and efficiency, I'm tackling the clutter.
And Then There's VirtueOne day soon, I'm going to tackle that drawer. I am. My creaky bones don't sit on the floor as well as they used to, but I need to get into the drawer and deal with it. I strongly suspect I'm not going to find a ton of inspiration or gems in there. But I'll feel so virtuous when I finally get it cleared out. And when it comes to me and clutter, virtuous is not something I feel all that often, so I'll take it.
So how about you? What clutter is slowing you down or making you feel bad? You'll never, ever hear me say you need to pare down to the bare essentials. I'm not an uncluttered kind of gal. But I do value efficiency, and I've learned that mining the clutter can lead to the discovery of useful things. So, maybe plan a little clutter mining for yourself. And if you find anything interesting, let me know. I love clutter tales.
Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Show us a sample of your work here.