Neat Freak Revives

This is a partial reblog from In Praise of Messiness.

I used to want to be a neat freak. 

Last year I redecorated my living room in minimalist fashion so that it would reflect my aspiring neat freak persona. First, I bought a piece of furniture which would hide my CD collection. I permitted no nick-knacks to clutter the room. When it was all finished I would step into this room saying, “yes, I am capable of being neat and tidy.”

This went on until I decided to pursue writing more seriously.  Then, the writer in me couldn’t keep up with the shipshape me I’d been yearning for. Slowly and with great subtlety the neat freak was shoved aside by someone not caring if the candelabra on the living room table was placed in the center. I no longer felt guilty about going to bed with the dishes piled up. Nor did I worry whether I had to push aside pages of manuscript I’d printed out in order to make room for my bowl of cereal.

More importantly, I allowed one of my manuscripts to take up permanent residence on my couch in my cherished minimalist living room. I was becoming one of those women of the fifties who in a rage of liberation tore apart all the plastic coverings on their sofa and allowed the neighbors’ children to sit on it, feet up and all.

Soon my writings began to inhabit the rooms of my apartment like a new family member. Piles of books were now on my grandmother’s antique chest; index cards littered the shelf next to my bed so that when an idea struck me awake in the middle of the night I could jot it down (I have learned the hard way not to rely on my memory for this); my dining room was transformed into a research center; my office…well, have a look.

And throughout all of this I discovered that chaos feeds creativity. After all, it has been said that chaos is the driving force of the universe. Without chaos nothing would happen.  If my tidiness did not stifle my creativity, it kept me from writing. Did I really need to have neat piles of folders in order to transfer onto my computer screen what was inside my head? Did my kitchen have to be spotless before I could feel the ejaculation of creative juices in my mind?

There is also something to be said for messiness in writing. My first drafts are chock full of  clichés,  run on sentences, bland  adjectives (yes,  adjectives and adverbs too), ideas run amok. Notes on whatever I am working on  – a piece of music that stimulates my imagination, a word I hear someone use over the radio, a flash – are scattered throughout my apartment so that I now have scheduled in my writing routine a time slot: transcribe notes into computer.

My first drafts look much like my office.  Would you want to read them?

The first chaotic draft is the starting point. Something to work from.  Without it there is no writing.

Before I am ready to send my work out, bedlam must be uncovered. There are revisions, reading what I have written out loud, rewriting, plucking out adjectives, scrounging the thesaurus, shifting ideas so that they are more coherent, so that my writing is clearer. Cleaner. Tidier. Neat.

That was then and this is now. Neat Freak has come back to visit and during the Christmas holidays I managed to fill a garbage bag full of papers that I no longer needed, with the anxiety that after I’ve thrown it out I will be wanting this exact paper. Oh, well. This is a chance I am willing to take for the sake of making space for the new.

This is my desk today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s a cup from when I was teaching Police Technology, a bottle of Chanel nail polish (doing my nails fills the empty spaces between thoughts), a photo of my sister who died four years ago for guidance, a lavender candle for calmness, a poster of Virginia Woolf which I got when I was in my early twenties while doing research in Bloomsbury, London to remind me why I write and a window which faces my back yard to make me daydream.

This purging, along with the photo of Chekhov’s desk which I posted earlier, gave me the idea to do a series of writers’ desks which I’ll post on Fridays.

What about you? What’s your desk like? Messy or neat freaking clean? Where do you write?   

8 thoughts on “Neat Freak Revives

  1. I AM a proud neat-freak Carol. But I agree, sometimes the tidying up has to wait, while the creative muse is in full gear. Dusting and cleaning can definitely always wait. LOL. Good post!!!


  2. First of all: A toast regarding the creative juices!
    Opposites attract: There is the need for neatness and also the need for a creative mess. You seem to be handling this balancing act quite well.
    My desk is not as messy as it could be – due to a husband who tends to ‘take care of stuff’. Thankfully, he puts everything in the rack right next to the desk. There is a small room in our flat – filled to the brim with books and two computers, my desk and said rack. I have got a good view at the sky – thanks to living on the 16th floor.


  3. I like to see the before and the after desk… I believe that in fact, work in a space that is in order helps the mind being clear! Although my work place is ofter full, and messy! How come do we let it happen? 🙂
    Have a nice day Carol Ann, your text made me laugh! xxx


  4. I do my writing, if you want to call it that, using my laptop, and most of the time using the small dining table. Its located in the living room, and facing the TV. Needless to say, no messiness…


  5. Great post Carol, I can certainly relate! I tend to do what you have done; my family room, kitchen and living room are laden with books and papers. I tend to explain myself when unexpected company comes over to my always clean house but full of writing paraphernalia all over the place. Once a month I muster the nerve to go through the piles and books and place them in files or shelves when I am certain I won’t need to revert to them frequently. Feng shui really works for me, when I’m decluttered I can breathe better but when my works all over the place I can write better…an ongoing dilemma!


  6. Interesting topic, Carol! I seem to enjoy being surrounded by paper, though usually in fairly neat piles. I like to neaten things up a little before I begin writing, so that I’ll know where everything is and can focus on the work. When I’m writing a novel, I keep separate folders for different aspects of the work – research, setting, characters, storyline, etc. so I can throw any new ideas I may get in the right place.

    My desk faces a window looking at the neighbor’s brick wall, with a patch of blue sky above. I can see birds flying past, as well. Anything more than this would probably distract me from whatever I’m writing.


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