This article was originally written in 2004 for a Canadian writing publication that went under before it went to print. I recently uncovered it while looking through files on my computer. I thought I’d share it here, since it’s kind of fun. UPDATE: Changed Rule #8 to Rule #7. Haha! Looks like a lack of editing.
It was a cool autumn day when I realized my motivation was not in her room. I hadn’t worked on my book for over six months. Not a paragraph, not a sentence, not a single word. Sure, I was writing without her. Though letters to friends and grocery lists cannot really be classified as creative writing. Can they? I needed her help. No matter what, there always seemed to be something more important to do rather than spend time in my office. Neglected, motivation left. This time I left my critique group to find her. Somehow, I was sidetracked, and completely forgot what I was looking for.
After some introspection, I discovered the cause of this strange pervading drought that had taken over my home. It was embodied in the absence of organization, dysfunctional space, and inadequate time management skills. I would sit at the kitchen table night after night talking instead of doing. I allowed the thoughts of what had to be done become intimidating and overwhelming. That’s when I declared my office a disaster area, and probably the point at which my motivation to write vanished.
Now, I’m not a messy person. I keep my house tidy. My office, on the other hand, was the pit from hell. I vicariously threw everything in there and left it where it fell. A messy workspace is the sign of a creative mind? Possibly. More probably, however, a messy workspace is a workspace not being used.
In pursuit of order and hoping to find my motivation, I attempted Feng Shui. But it was too complex and didn’t seem to work. Putting a mirror on the wall opposite the window no more dispersed negativity than painting the door red attracted manuscript sales. I watched TV for hours hoping to find my motivation hiding on the set of a sci-fi re-run. She wasn’t and I didn’t.
I examined the problem further. It seemed to go deeper than mere cosmetics. Each time I straightened up, it wasn’t enough. The mess returned. The mess ran deeper than I wanted to admit. My desk remained buried in paperwork. My closet was packed with plastic totes whose contents were a complete mystery. My floors were buried with the overflow of *things*. It was anyone’s guess how I could find my keyboard let alone motivation.
It took me several months to admit I needed help. Lots of help. Out of desperation I did what many writers with no motivation do. I sat down in front of the TV and tuned in to PBS. As luck would have it the program on was about organization. Inspired by my superstitious notions of divine intervention I decided, then and there, that I needed to ask a professional about their organizational skills.
I called on a writer friend. “I’ve lost my motivation! Help!” I cried.
My friend had sold several books, and was writing her millionth (so it seemed) article for a major magazine. She agreed to come over and take a look. After all, she wasn’t quite sure what “My motivation is hiding” really meant.
When she entered the house she looked around, puzzled, as if she expected some disaster. “Oh no, not in here,” I explained as I led her from my tidy living room, down the hall to my office. I flung open the office door and stood back, allowing her full access. “Here.”
She gasped. “What happened?”
“What do you mean what happened?” I asked.
“It looks like a wild animal was let loose in here. I’m surprised you get anything done!”
“I don’t get anything done. That’s the problem,” I explained.
She laughed. “I can see why. You can organize it all you want, but maintaining order is half the battle. There is some link between organization and success when it comes to writing. If you can’t organize your space, how do you organize your mind?”
With her help I created a list of rules to help me get organized, and stay that way.
Rule #1 – If you don’t need it or use it – store it or get rid of it.
Rule #2 – Make sure you can get to the stuff you use often.
Rule #3 – Everything has a place.
Rule #4 – When you are done with something, put it back in its place.
Rule #5 – You don’t need seventy-five hard copies of your most recent draft.
Rule #6 – The floor is not “extra room” for future files, books, etc..
Rule #7 – If it doesn’t belong in your workspace, then it shouldn’t be there.
After almost a year of not writing anything, it took only a few days to thoroughly examine my office and get it into order. Imagine my happiness when I finally found my motivation hiding behind my desk. She looked parched and thin, and she was a little cranky. She pulled herself out from behind the desk and brushed herself off. As I slipped the last book into its place on the bookshelf I turned to her and asked: “Where have you been?” She scowled at me and shook her head. I already knew the answer. She had been trapped by the mess, and couldn’t get out. What she was doing behind the desk in the first place is anyone’s guess. I decided not to ask.