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?   

Anton Chekhov on Writing (2)

This is the desk in the cottage where Anton Chekhov wrote The Seagull.

Click on the link below to get a better view of his desk.


Here are more of Chekhov’s tips on writing from the Nebraska Center for Writers:

My business is to be talented, that is, to be capable of selecting the important moments from the trivial ones. … It’s about time for writers — particularly those who are genuine artists — to recognize that in this world you cannot figure out everything. Just have a writer who the crowds trust be courageous enough and declare that he does not understand everything, and that lone will represent a major contribution to the way people think, a long leap forward.

I still lack a political, religious and philosophical world view — I change it every month — and so I’ll have to limit myself to descriptions of how my heroes love, marry, give birth, die, and how they speak. — To Dmitry Grigorovich, October 9, 1888

One has to write what one sees, what one feels, truthfully, sincerely. I am often asked what it was that I was wanting to say in this or that story. To these questions I never have any answer. There is nothing I want to say. My concern is to write, not to teach! And I can write about anything you like. … Tell me to write about this bottle, and I will give you a story entitled “The Bottle.” Living truthful images generate thought, but thought cannot create an image.

For the complete article go to

Anton Chekhov on Writing

In my “in progress” novel Cora’s Cry for Help Lieutenant Detective Alice Vireo has this to say about her mother:

My mother is sixty-two. She was born in Yalta not far from the vineyards where Anton Chekhov lived out his last years. Even though Chekhov died half a century before my mother was born she speaks of him as if he was her next door neighbor. Of how he’d married the actress Olga Knipper who performed in his plays, implying that had she been living at the same time he surely would have married her instead.

File:Chekhov's House at Yalta, 1899.jpeg’s_House_at_Yalta,_1899.jpeg

Google Anton Chekhov and you’ll find About 1,450,000 results.

Through some miracle I found an article titled Anton Chekhov on Writing from Brent Spencer’s Nebraska Center for Writers.

Because of the length of the article I’ve broken it down into two parts. This, obviously is part 1:


My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.

When you describe the miserable and unfortunate, and want to make the reader feel pity, try to be somewhat colder — that seems to give a kind of background to another’s grief, against which it stands out more clearly. Whereas in your story the characters cry and you sigh. Yes, be more cold. … The more objective you are, the stronger will be the impression you make. — To Lydia Avilova, March 19, 1892 & April 29, 1892

If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.

… only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish things.

I think descriptions of nature should be very short and always be à propos. Commonplaces like “The setting sun, sinking into the waves of the darkening sea, cast its purple gold rays, etc,” “Swallows, flitting over the surface of the water, twittered gaily” — eliminate such commonplaces. You have to choose small details in describing nature, grouping them in such a way that if you close your eyes after reading it you can picture the whole thing. For example, you’ll get a picture of a moonlit night if you write that on the dam of the mill a piece of broken bottle flashed like a bright star and the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled by like a ball, etc. … In the realm of psychology you also need details. God preserve you from commonplaces. Best of all, shun all descriptions of the characters’ spiritual state. You must try to have that state emerge clearly from their actions. Don’t try for too many characters. The center of gravity should reside in two: he and she. — To AP Chekhov, May 10, 1886

A writer is not a confectioner, a cosmetic dealer, or an entertainer. He is a man who has signed a contract with his conscience and his sense of duty.

I long to embrace, to include in my own short life, all that is accessible to man. I long to speak, to read, to wield a hammer in a great factory, to keep watch at sea, to plow. I want to be walking along the Nevsky Prospect, or in the open fields, or on the ocean — wherever my imagination ranges. — Anton Chekhov

When you fashion a story you necessarily concern yourself with its limits: out of slew of main and secondary characters you choose only one — the wife or the husband — place him against the background and describe him alone and therefore also emphasize him, while you scatter the others in the background like small change, and you get something like the night sky: a single large moon and a slew of very small stars. But the moon doesn’t turn out right because you can see it only when the other stars are visible too, but the stars aren’t set off. So I turn out a sort of patchwork quilt rather than literature. What can I do? I simply don’t know. I will simply depend on all-healing time. — To Alexei Suvorin, October 27, 1888

Stay tuned for part two.

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