The Practice of Creativity

Spring Cleaning for Writers: The First ‘R’-Reassess

Posted on: April 1, 2013

Spring is here!

Spring presents writers with a perfect time to reassess, reorganize and rededicate ourselves to the projects that we most want to bring into the world. Spring powers us with the energy to tackle physical spaces (and states of mind) that no longer serve our writing life.

Last December, I made a major commitment to re-imagining my writing space. I was tired of being one of those people who always seemed to ‘be in the process of organizing’, arguably one of the most important rooms in my house, without ever accomplishing a significant change. My writing career during the last two years has taken off in remarkable ways and I began to view my perpetually cluttered room as a pattern of self-sabotage.

These before pictures show that my space definitely needed some attention!

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I hired a painter. I spent two days packing up, two days watching the painters work their magic and then three weeks unpacking.roompix 444roompix 447

The challenge came as I began to unpack. I needed to create new systems and to let go of stuff. During the cold days of December I often found myself frustrated, overwhelmed and entirely baffled that I could feel so emotionally undone by this process.

I began to explore how some of my discomfort in relating to space was closely tied to childhood patterns.  Due to financial constraints I shared a room with my mother from the age of nine until eighteen. I missed out on a lot of  developmental experiences of the joys and challenges of having one’s own room and caring for it. Although this wasn’t the sole cause of clutter in my life, I understood why I held onto things too long (often coming from a place of scarcity or deprivation), and also how I simultaneously paid little attention to the aesthetics of space. After these insights, the organizing went a lot smoother.

Although this spring I still have a few more things to work on in my new space, I am in love with it!

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Spring cleaning, for you, may not involve any deep-seated emotional issues. But, if you think it could, you can begin by asking the following questions:

-Is clutter an ongoing issue for me?

-Have I experienced patterns of deprivation that may effect how I relate to material objects?

-Do I feel unusually sad, frustrated, or angry as I try to declutter and organize my space?

Depending on your answers, you may want to solicit support from a coach or therapist who specializes in organizational issues.

The first step in my spring cleaning process is to reassess your space, your schedule, and patterns of mind to see what is supporting or not supporting your writing life.

Go and look at your writing space. What’s the state of it? Do you feel a sense of ease when you look at it? Is it crammed with stuff that belongs in other rooms of your house? If you live with other people, is this space known as your special writing area?

Have you even claimed some special place yet, or are you waiting for permission from someone else? If you’re struggling with this, see my post on claiming creative space.

Survey your space and make a quick list of what you feel needs your attention most. The questions below are not exhaustive, but offer a good place to start.

-Do you need to organize and sort your paper files?

-Would it be useful to create an index for your piles of journals?

-Are there notes from conferences and workshops that need to be reviewed and filed?

-Are there writing exercises that could be useful to you if they were typed up?

-When was the last time you did a backup of your computer files? Do you need to delete or add programs?

-Do you need to release some writing books? Welcome others?

-Do you need to physically clean your computer?

-Do you have visible reminders of your writing accomplishments? Is it time to take some down and put up new ones?

-Do you have too much or too little of something in your space?

-Do you need more or less shelf space?

-Are there big physical jobs you’d like to do (i.e. paint)?

Once you have your list you can break each item down into specific tasks.

It’s important to not get overwhelmed during spring cleaning. Many people decide they will devote a day to a spring cleaning project and then realize that they’re cranky after two hours and that the task requires at least two days. Start small and reward yourself often. Why not take from now until the official start of summer to spring clean? You could choose one project each week. I suggest working in 15-30 minute intervals so there’s less chance of getting frustrated and overwhelmed. I enjoy using an online stopwatch.

What are you reassessing right now in support of your writing life?


11 Responses to "Spring Cleaning for Writers: The First ‘R’-Reassess"

This article is very timely for me. I haven’t been able to control some health issues (not life threatening) lately so I’ve been trying to control my home. This fits in perfectly with the system I’m using. Thanks, Michelle, I’ll be clearing my writing nook today!

Hi Greta,
I hope things with your health get cleared up soon. Glad the post came at a good time. It’s amazing what gets unearthed about our writing lives when we do a bit of spring cleaning. Look forward to seeing you soon in Pittsboro!

I dream of organizing my writing space, better even having a dedicated one. For five years now, I’ve moved it from room-to-room never really settling into one spot. I’ve inhabited the corner of the living room the longest—the piles of books and writerly debris attest to this. I have three novels in the work and just took on writing a brunch cookbook for a fundraiser. Yikes. I’m going to get started latter today by making a list of what needs doing and breaking the task into small doable everyday projects. Thanks Michelle!

Hey Lynne,
Well it sounds that your productivity has flowed no matter where you’re writing which is terrific. I’m wishing you well on starting small and rewarding yourself often as you clear. Also, congrats on getting to write a cookbook–how fun!

The “after” looks so inviting! Can I come write at your house? 😉 My problem is that my office is also my closet, hence clothing tends to be strewn here and there. But I always feel better when it’s picked up.

Hi Karen,
You bet you can come over. I’m actually thinking of hosting a small writers ‘let’s celebrate our writing accomplishments’ sometime this spring or early summer–and I know you have a lot to celebrate. Since you are now officially a published novelist (with success under your belt), I think it’s time to move out of the closet!

Karen, I thought your cat invasion was the only drawback!

I’m impressed!

I love the new look! The hardest part for me is letting go. I’m a packrat by nature, especially when it comes to story ideas. Fortunately, I’ve learned to keep word files of all my story ideas. Now, if I could learn to speed read through the endless piles of reading material. 🙂 Baby steps, right? ;->

Thanks Ingrid!
Letting go is always the hardest part and even knowing the research shows that most people only ever access something like 20% of what they file doesn’t seem to always help me. Baby steps definitely and lots of rewards along the way.

Michele, your blog entry made me realized that I do have a major problem with my own writing space. In November we downsized from a four bedroom house to a two bedroom apartment which my wife and I share with our 18 and 20 year old sons.

I’m a full-time writer, full-time stay at home dad, full-time husband, full-time cook/maid and a three part-time job provider. At our house I had I had two spaces to manage all my responsibilities :
• Writing space–books to read, books read, classic books, Chicago Style Manual, awards from my marketing days, The Bible, The US Constitution, and lots of wires charging laptop, tablet, cell.
• Household Management space–bills, bills, bills, taxes, retirement planning, more bills, etc.

In our apartment I have compressed my spaces into one desk with file cabinet and plastic stacked drawers, one book shelf topped off with vertical files. This combo space can be found in the corner of our dining room. For an anal retentive writer this has become unbearable. Bills are in piles. Stuff for my CCCC writing course is in another. Stuff for my current book project in another. Books to read and books read are here and there. Charging cords and USB cords crisscross the space.

I spent part of yesterday reorganizing by putting separating my stuff into writing and household again. When I work on writing, I’ll put the household stuff out of site on a shelf and vice versa. I’ve re-configured all my cords so that they’re behind the desk until I need them. I’m hoping this will help me keep things organized and make me more productive.

Cross your fingers.

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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