Posted by: Kathleen Mix | April 13, 2012

Spring Cleaning

Before I reach the end of a work-in-progress, I’m mentally outlining my next book. My brain slips easily into a new milieu, but the physical transition from one book to another is usually more difficult. I have to clear out all the baggage associated with writing my old story. So every time I declare a manuscript finished, I spring-clean my desk.
While I’m immersed in writing a book, my desk evolves into a disaster area. On my right, I have a pile that grows as a manuscript progresses. It starts with a print copy of my first draft outline. Soon I’ve added a collection of notes scribbled on whatever writing material I had on hand when an idea struck. I brainstorm throughout the day, record my thoughts, and accumulate pages torn off notepads or ripped from spiral notebooks. On the backs of grocery lists, restaurant receipts, and napkins, I jot down themes and conflicts or questions for my plot to answer. A possible market or promo idea might be noted on a post-it or circled in the margin of a workshop handout. A snippet of dialogue recalled from a dream at three a.m. can be transcribed on the back of a piece of junk mail while I’m fixing breakfast and later dropped on the pile. Pages my critique partners have commented on are clipped together and saved for future reference. The farther into a book I get, the higher and more disorganized the pile.
The rest of my desk surface is rarely seen. My reference books occupy a four-foot long strip of real estate. Nearby, I have one stack of workshop handouts and another with back issues of writing magazines. I like quotes and statements of positive reinforcement, so scraps of paper with a few words to remember are scattered around or pinned to my wall. I clip and save interesting tidbits I read in newspapers. Notes with ideas for new stories are paper-clipped together and dropped in a shoebox.
I love file folders and well-organized shelves and frequently vow to sort my paper collection and discard the worthless junk. But my good intentions rarely last longer than a week. My piles of books to-be-read are soon tottering, and my stack of notebooks leaning. The file folders I’ve stuffed are hopelessly out of order. The space next to my printer is once again heaped with sheets designated scrap. Paper clips, pens, staplers, and stamps are all somewhere. Usually I can find them. If I’m lucky, my backup CDs are labeled.
Writers write, and I’d much rather write than clean. But occasionally, I have to push aside the clutter on my desk to make room for my keyboard. The gap between manuscripts is my designated time to impose some semblance of order. Even then, most of my collection of books and paperwork isn’t discarded. I still have the outlines and notes for every book I’ve had published collecting dust and dog hairs in the corner of my closet. And to my husband’s dismay, I hoard the written word, be it fiction or non-fiction.
Some people require organization and an orderly workspace to be productive. Some of us ignore the chaos and concentrate on our plot and characters. Go with whatever method works for you. Clean your desk between books or every day. Just remember to focus on writing.

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