I learned how to write better this week by giving things away. I just read Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned from Living in 140 Square Feet. It’s a fitting title for me, since I’m in the process of downsizing my home by 1,000 square feet. This is phase one of an eventual move to some acreage with an even smaller home upon it.
My family and I had about two weeks to move a lifetime of collected stuff manually from one place to the other, so only the most important, or most necessary, made the cut. Gone were the knife sets, holiday dishes, and 20+ mugs collected from birthdays, travel, and well-meaning friends. Gone, too, were some of my treasured hardback books, old page-worn friends I thought I could never live without. I actually cried when I packed them lovingly in the boxes for the next Goodwill run.
What does getting rid of stuff have to do with learning to write better? Currently, I sit surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam of a cluttered life, still sorting through piles as I adapt to my new space. In our temporary quarters, (we’ll be renting this place for about a year while our new home is being built), I have taken over the dining room as my writing space. It’s not a large room, and there are no closets in which to hide the various writing paraphernalia that I’ve collected through the years. I tackled this room first, since I can’t afford to have any writing downtime. In doing so, I learned that half the things I kept in my office were useless clutter at best, and at worst, distractions.
I kept the essentials: my computer, my desk, my chair, a printer, a comfortable couch for inspiring daydreaming and my favorite artwork. But the ten to fifteen volumes of self-help books for writers, several disturbingly blank journals, and the remains of half-finished hobbies hit the road for new homes.
Like many creatives, my multifaceted personality means I bore easily. I write, sure, but I also paint, create jewelry, and enjoy needlework. In pursuit of those peripheral hobbies, I’ve collected a veritable mountain of stuff to fuel my interests. I stored all of this in my writing room, in case I wanted a diversion from writing tasks.
What getting rid of clutter has done for me, not surprisingly, is narrow my focus more keenly on my writing. Gone are the half-finished paintings that shot a pang of guilt through me every time I saw them. With them went my reason to delay beginning work on a new novel. It’s not that I want to write to the exclusion of all else. It’s just that now when I sit in my office, writing is the only thing staring me in the face.
Even if you don’t want or need to downsize, consider getting all non-writing-inducing materials out of your writing space. Sewing machines, leather tooling equipment, beer-making supplies, or (fill in the blank for your favorite extra-curricular pursuits) should find a place elsewhere. A dedicated hobby room is great if you have it; if not, consider a garage or basement storage spot or, if you’re really brave, find it a new home with someone who’ll use the heck out of it.
Then, look at your writing space with new eyes. Your writing is no longer an ephemeral pursuit, relegated to hobby status through long association with other whimsical interests. It’s your job, your calling, your raison d’être. With nothing to hold you back, you can give in to the tug of words at your heart and the spill of ink from your pen. Let your fingers dance across your keyboard in the joy and freedom that your focused surroundings can bring you. Write! Write! Write! Write better!
See you on the next page!