Clearing the Clutter

One of the things I’m learning this time through the Artist’s Way is how I affect my own effectiveness. It’s pretty easy to blame other people and other obligations for keeping us from our writing, but often it’s not that simple.

Julia Cameron calls this self-sabotage, which seems a bit harsh until you take it apart.

I have a tendency to keep lists, and I have a tendency to do things on my list first – to get them off the list. My rationale (or rationalization!) has always been that list things are very precise tasks that don’t take a lot of concentration or effort (“put in a load of laundry; wash the dishes; repot that plant” etc.) but that having a list and knowing that tasks are awaiting my attention is distracting. So, I do them before I write. And this is the kicker – I write best in the morning, but often end up with enough of a list that I don’t get to my writing until close to noon (if then). This is, I think, the real danger of a home office, particularly when that home is perpetually (or it seems perpetual) in the midst of renovation. It’s easy to build a list and easy to spend a lot of time doing the tasks on that list.

I never thought of it as something that kept me from writing as much as I’d like to write, even though the list can chew up a bunch of time. So, in the past few weeks, I’ve been working to whittle down my list. I’ve been leaving breakfast dishes in the sink or even on the table until lunch. (This will only work so long as my mother doesn’t come to visit!) I’ve been running laundry after I write. Although I like to blog in the mornings, to give you all something to read, I’ve discovered the TimeStamp utility in WordPress that lets me write blogs anytime and schedule them for later appearance on the blog. (How kewl is that?) I’m staying offline until the afternoon or until my writing is done.

The list goes on and on, but the essence of it is that I’m putting my writing first, giving it the pride of place that it deserves.

And it works. If I go straight from my morning pages to my writing, I write like crazy. There are no distractions. There’s nothing to annoy me or draw my attention from the next scene I need to write. Even better, I have all of these great ideas to get my characters out of the corners they’ve gotten themselves into. It’s like magic. It’s fun.

Instead of the fact of having a list being a distraction – which was what I believed for years – the act of doing the items on the list was the distraction. I still make my list, but I leave it in the kitchen (with the dirty dishes) until my writing is done. Pushing aside the clutter and letting the writing drive my day – instead of the clutter filling my day – has doubled my daily page count.

That’s pretty potent stuff, isn’t it?!

So, how about you? Are there things you do first, or do instead of writing? Do you avoid your work, or make it “impossible”? Or do you leave everything else until the writing gets done, making the act of writing Job #1?

3 thoughts on “Clearing the Clutter

  1. Boy are there!
    I too write best in the morning.
    I am going to be getting up early and getting a few hours in before Oscar wakes up, and write more after he leaves. Writing while he’s here is horrible.
    I make micro-lists, too. I tend to forget obvious things otherwise. I have been doing household stuff first thing when my energy is high, but there is no reason I can’t wait until after lunch. I bet my pages increase, just in time for Kia.


  2. I feel like I’m still in training, which I suppose is a pretty fair analogy. I woke at 5:30 this morning and was writing by 6, managed to get 6 new pages done before petering out. Still plenty of the day left, and I already wrote more than I did yesterday.
    Now for a knitting break, then breakfast with the hubby, then he’ll go to work and I can dive back into writing.


  3. Interesting observations about the lists. I keep them on occasion, when I have lots of things to do that I worry about forgetting. Or that I’ve put off and now have got to get done. I also worry about keeping up with things in the future, as my job is changing.

    I learned a long time ago that I can’t get up earlier. Once I’m asleep, I like to stay that way. I can get up, take a shower, and still go back to sleep. So it’s not practical for me to do what Diana is doing.


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