Cleaning House

sweep

My husband and I are moving. Today. In fact, as you read this queued post, we are probably beginning to unload furniture from the truck and into our new place.

I’m excited. There’s a spare bedroom that’s going to become my office so I finally have a place of my own to work in private. The birds will get more space and sunshine and we gain lots of closets and my husband’s commute to work will be easier. Lots of perks to be had!

But the old apartment. Ah, the old place. How it haunts. Looms. Menaces. It is full of boxes and suitcases and dust and more than a few recently-discovered spiders in long-ignored storage areas. Eugh. As exciting as the new place is, we know we must deal with the state of the old one.  As we’ve been packing and organizing and throwing things out, my husband and I have both suffered from the Urge to Clean.

I want so badly to vacuum every corner. sweep up every dust bunny, mop every inch of flooring – but I’ve stopped myself. It sounds like a pretty stupid idea, not cleaning when the urge strikes, but it’s going to make sense in a moment, I promise.

Now, when I went to culinary school (I bet you didn’t know I’m a trained pastry chef, did you?), I was taught by my favorite Chef Instructor, “Clean as you go – that’s my motto” and in many aspects of life (cooking, especially), it has served me well. But I’ve discovered two places that this cheerful little rhyme is actually hurtful: writing and moving house.

When writing a first draft (we’ll talk about Shitty First Drafts in a blog post soon, don’t worry), the urge to edit and change and tweak and perfect as you go affects most of us. We dawdle over a passage or spend an hour re-working a bit of dialogue. Well, don’t. Just write. Get the damn thing over with and in the meantime – leave it alone!

In the same way that it will better serve my husband and I to first get everything out of the apartment and then come through and clean it, so too does it make more sense to finish an entire rough first draft of a story or novel and then come back through and edit it. Don’t make more work for yourself – write now, edit later. Trust me, those edits will still be there when you come back to them later.

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Show Up. Shut Up. Put Up.

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(OR An Accidental Part 2 to Remind Your Brain Who’s Boss)

Having examined how the creative process works inside of the brain (at least briefly and from the standpoint of a severe laywoman), it’s time to figure out how better to train the creative mind to be more productive. As someone who writes as a profession, I really should be writing every day.

I’m not. Most days, sure. If I had my ‘druthers, I’d love to sit and write fairly consistently for 4-6 hours a day, every day. I don’t have that kind of time most days or, if we are being honest, maybe I don’t make that time. Between dealing with a chronic illness and pain, housework, and caring for our three parrots, I don’t have much quiet and uninterrupted down time to just focus on work.

If you are a writer who sits and works 6, 7, 8 hours a day most every day, I salute you. That’s fantastic. If you’re more like me, you might also be wondering how to improve those writing habits. And that’s what they are, aren’t they? Habits. Without an office job with regular hours and pay, it’s up to the individual to just plant his or her butt in a chair and write. With no absolute promise of pay more often than not, consistently working on a writing project can seem daunting.

Being creative is easy. Being consistent is what’s difficult.

I used to work in kitchens. I’m actually trained as a pastry chef! And if there is one line of work that requires consistency above all else (don’t let Food Network fool you with its pretty, well-lit home kitchens because those are a LIE), it’s the world of the restaurant kitchen. That was a low-paying job that required showing up 6 days a week for 10 or more hours of intense physical labor each day and you didn’t have room to mess around with being creative in the grind of daily work.

I developed a mantra for myself when I was having a tough time working through pain or fatigue or frustration and I think it works here, too. If the first part of this article duo was about the physical/chemical aspect of the creative brain, then this part is about the more physical part of writing consistently.

Show up. Shut up. Put up.

It looks simple, doesn’t it? It isn’t always or we would all do it merrily and constantly. Life gets in the way – trust me, I know – but forming habits that put life on pause to be productive is the key.

Show Up.

No, really. That’s it. His is probably the easiest step of all. My illness has kept me from holding down a 9-5 but I can write and work from home! Whatever Show Up means to you, it’s time to do it. No excuses. Get there.

Shut Up.

This is where it gets hard. In the kitchen, this was very literal – no back talk, no excuses, just keep your head down and work. In this case, the question is more about avoiding distraction. Close Facebook and twitter and tumblr and all of that good stuff and just work. Reward yourself every 30 or 45 minutes if you need to (I know I do) with some silly browsing, a snack, or just dancing around your kitchen like an idiot for a few minutes. Whatever works. But when it comes to work, it’s time to Shut Up.

Put Up.

Do the work. Do it. Make goals, work toward them, and (this is the most important bit) finish things. Publishers don’t want to accept 2/3 of your masterpiece brat American novel so you had better actually complete that manuscript. Start small if you need to. Write twitter posts on a professional account. Make blog posts (hint hint!). Write flash fiction or short stories or personal essays or creative non-fiction. Decide on something to do and dot it.

Show up. Shut up. Put up. Now lets see what you can do, Internet!