Monday, January 21, 2013

Cleaning the Mental Clutter

Good Morning. Last week, as I reported, James Taylor and I ripped up the rug in the front hall.  I set aside my revisions and cleaned my house. Well, yesterday, I decided to go bat shit crazy and rearrange the furniture. Yeah, what was I thinking.

I was thinking that I didn't want to work on my revisions. Some life I lead, huh? If I'm not writing, I clean.

Anyway, we have this room -- my mother calls it a den, I call it an extension of the kitchen. (Because the kitchen is a little box separated by a wall with a pass-through window.) In this "den" we have the tv, Monster's toys, my "other desk" (for household/school/bill stuff) the table where we eat, a love seat, and a couple of bookcases. Like I said, the room is huge.

We live in this room. Mind you, I have a dining room, a formal parlour, a foyer, and 3 bedrooms. However, this is the room we congregate in. (I don't think Monster has played in her bedroom once.) When we moved in, I put the furniture where I thought it should go and left it that way.

But it's always bugged me. This room faces the north side of the house, has only two windows, and the paneling is old Canadian pine board. (very thick, beautiful, and something my father absolutely refuses to allow me to paint) Needless to say, it's very dark. Only one overhead light.

So yesterday I decided to rearrange the furniture. See if I could get more light in. I took out a desk, moved two small pantry closet things, added a shelf, moved the big pantry thing, rearranged Monster's play area, and brought in some plants. Then for some crazy reason, I decided to take the desk downstairs to my office and rearranged all that furniture too.

On top of all that, I dusted, did laundry, vacuumed, washed dishes, cleaned the laundry room, and went to the grocery store. When I finished I turned on the tv and watched 3 hours of the Castle marathon on TNT, then switched over to Downton Abbey.

Now mind you, I should have been working on the revisions for The EE. I'm almost finished with them and want to get this book published. It's been my driving force for the last two months. So why would I forego that to clean my house, you may wonder.

Well, I'll tell you. The revisions I'm trying to do (suggestions from my wonderful critique partners) have made me realize the book was not everything I wanted it to be, everything it could be, as perfect as I thought it was. Yes, I made them, 99% of them in fact, and now, heading into the final edits/read through/copy line edits, I understand that I'm stubbornly refusing to acknowledge I'm not a first, second, third, or even fourth draft wunderkind. I thought I was, I really did.

Vanity, they name is woman.

And that bugs me.

What it all boils down to, is that EVERYTHING needs revisions. From where you put your furniture, to how many times you change your blouse in the morning, to how many times you need to revise your manuscript. Nothing is perfect the first time. No matter how perfect you think you are. But I have to say, now that my furniture is in a much better place, there's so much more light, I think my brain is as well. It's Monday and I'm ready to dive back in to see what else I can do to make my book the best that it can be.

Tell me -- Does your "mental" clutter drive your "outside" clutter? Or vice versa? Do you procrastinate getting things done in a timely manner like I do, or do you dive right in? How many times have you rearranged your furniture?


Stacy McKitrick said...

What your mother calls a den, I would call the family room.

As for rearranging my furniture? Hardly ever happens (that stuff is heavy!!). If I procrastinate anything, it's cleaning. You must have one clean house!

DL Hammons said...

Just because you feel that something has been revised multiple times, doesn't mean that it wasn't perfect at that previous point in time. I've looked at sentences and thought it perfectly communicated exactly what I wanted it to, only to come back to it ten minutes later and totally rearrange it. Does that mean it wasn't perfect before? Nope, it just means my perception changed. Trying to finish a manuscript is a bit like trying to hit a moving target...when your the target! :)

Laurel Garver said...

I am one of those crazy people who loves rearranging the furniture regularly. (I wonder if this is somehow linked to being a professional editor who fixes and tweaks and tinkers for a living?) I also would argue that the physical act of rearranging is a way for your subconscious to work through the revisions you don't yet consciously know how to make. I always advise my CPs and editing clients to tackle an organizing task when they are mentally stuck trying to fix a manuscript.

And I've been rearranging five rooms in my house this month, and each day at bedtime find I've got new ideas to move forward a manuscript I've been picking away at for two years.

Bish Denham said...

I would love to rearrange the furniture but after many experiments it has settled into the best arrangement and has not been moved in years.

I put off doing things. Like, I should be writing right now instead of reading blogs and posting comments... :)

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

My husband is more of a furniture re-arranger than I am. The only time I move it is when I'm painting or wallpapering, something I used to do with alarming frequency. Nowadays, I'm usually happy to leave things be. Our furniture is old, but then, so are we. Suits us.

Editing and rewriting, however, is another story. I think I could fiddle with my words endlessly, because I am NEVER satisfied. I'm always convinced it could be BETTER. Knowing when to STOP is a real skill.

Anne Gallagher said...

Stacy -- The house gets into this mad chaotic tumble when I write, so needless to say the only time it's really clean is when I stop.

Don -- Yeah, I could rearrange sentences, paragraphs until the cows come home. What this exercise has taught me is my other books need looking at too. Then again, maybe not.

Laurel -- I agree. The physical actions I used to clean have always helped me get to the "meat" of the problem. Usually though, I'm outside raking or gardening. This is the first time I've ever moved furniture.

Bish -- I think now the furniture will stay where it is. I like the arrangement and it works very well. Eerything has a place. It's Monday, the only real day I get a chance to blog, so that's why I'm here. Taking a break.

Susan -- Oh woe is me when I decide to paint! Yes, knowing when to stop is a real skill. I keep sending my snippets of revision back to my critters and we go back and forth to see which way is better. I think that's been my problem with this book.

Johanna Garth said...

I can't deal with clutter. In fact, if the house is feeling too cluttered I have to go somewhere else to write. Lucky for me my husband is very kids however, not so much.

Carol Kilgore said...

Clutter makes me crazy. I have to clear it before I can really write and be productive. If I'm debating on how to do something writing-wise, doing something else - like moving furniture - helps me think.

I'm a Class A furniture mover from way back. I get bored with it in the same place all the time. Sometimes I'll move one thing. Or the whole room. Or more than one room. Makes me feel good :)

Liza said...

I have 1958 pine paneling too. It is lovely, but because of how the room is laid out, I really can't rearrange the furniture. Sometime I mutter the dreaded word "paint" but I don't think I really mean it. Perhaps new furniture would help. Right. No such luck there either.

Elliot Grace said...

...clutter only tends to annoy me when I find myself backed into a corner with whatever project is currently in the works. Otherwise, all's well until my wife decides that it's not ;)


Anne R. Allen said...

I always say "Show me an author with a tidy house and I'll show you an author with writer's block."

But the truth is, that "block" or "putting off the revisions" is the time your subconscious needs to get it right. Somewhere underneath all the busy work of cleaning and rearranging, you're cleaning and rearranging that book. You won't know it until you sit down to write again, but I'll bet it will be there.

I'm doing the same thing. I just went through an old manuscript, knowing it needs work, and suddenly I was antsy and couldn't sit at the keyboard. The garden was a mess--frost had killed back half the succulents and tropical plants. So I spent three days pruning, weeding and tidying. Now, I think I might be able to tackle that manuscript. Good luck with yours!

Creepy Query Girl said...

Yes, yes and yes. Often when something is bugging me on the inside, I start de-cluttering and cleaning my outside environment. It makes me feel better and once everything is in it's place, my mind is usually ready to confront whatever needs to be sorted out mentally/emotionally. Unfortunatley, I'm on bed rest right now, so cleaning isn't an option. Which sucks. You're better than I am though, when it comes to the 4th draft wunderkind. Often times I don't do what needs to be done on my drafts until at least a YEAR after they've been written. (after they've been through betas, big things changed, minor things changed, it gets thumbs up and then agents start tearing it apart and I rip my hair out) Sometimes more. It takes me that long to get to the stage where I put my hands up and say 'Ok. You were right. I was wrong. Let's do this.'

Linda G. said...

Huh. Looks like my comment didn't take. I'll try again.

Anyway, my house is always at its cleanest when I'm wrestling with a plot problem. Busy hands free up the mind, I guess. :)

Sarah Ahiers said...

I need you to come and not revise in my house...
Sometimes my procrastination leads to cleaning. But usually it just leads to book reading or tv watching

Anne Gallagher said...

Johanna -- I've never been minimalist, but I'm looking into it this year. I've got a whole mess of stuff for the yard sale come spring and I keep piling it on.

Carol -- I usually do the BIG clean in the spring, but this furniture was really driving me nuts. I guess I can cross that room off the list come April.

Liza -- lol Paint. I would so love to splash a nice yellow over it. But Dad said absolutely NOT. Maybe I can take it down piece by piece and put it in the garage.

El -- Yeah, that's how I feel too. And believe me I was backed into that corner!

Anne -- Oh, I love that quote. Fit's me to a T. Yay for your garden. Yay for your revisions. I've got another few weeks before I can get outside just yet, so I'll be working on another book until then.

Katie -- YOU STAY IN BED!! No cleaning for you. A year isn't so bad unless you think it's bad. Perhaps on the next book you can just do as they say right off the bat and see what happens. A little change is good. And if you don't like it, you can always change it back to what YOU want.

Linda -- Idle hands are the devil's workshop, eh? I've never done inside work though when I'm wrestling, I'm usually outside. So this was different.

Sarah -- LOL. I'd be more than happy to come to your house and not revise. As soon as it's summer. I hear you've had WEATHER there lately and these old bones couldn't take it. Yeah, that Castle marathon was fab! I havne't watched tv in forever!!

Optimistic Existentialist said...

Mental clutter can definitely be cumbersome...but thankfully my brain's a bit to small for there to be clutter. Kiddind...kind of

Nicki Elson said...

Hmm, I really can't relate to this as I do everything perfect the first time...har dee har HAR! Oh how I wish that were true - but not really. Change and revision gives us a new burst of excitement instead of letting things get stale.

Congrats on clearing that clutter and getting the job done!

J.L. Campbell said...

Hi, Anne,
I hope you meet your target.

I also like to think I won't do a lot of editing once I get get everything written. Of course, it doesn't happen that way. Then, when I do get to editing, I don't know went to stop.