Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way recommends writers write three morning pages every day to get the creative juices flowing. They don’t have to be Pulitzer material. They can be anything the writer is thinking about. Any stray thought that enters her mind, whether it be a song or what’s for dinner or a rant about the drippy faucet. The amazing thing is that it works. It works because it gets all the stuff that is on your mind off your mind. And then you can think. What a luxury that is, especially when you are a working mom in the thick of the busiest time of your life. For me, what it does is remove the top layer of clutter from my brain. Like clearing off a desk.

It used to be, I had things piled high on my home office desk. Stacks of bills to pay and then file, kids’ artwork from school, to-do lists, framed photos to hang one day when I figured out how I wanted to arrange them on whichever wall I decidde on. My high school physics teacher was a wonderful, brilliant woman, but she had a messy desk. She would laugh at herself as she searched for her lesson plans and say, “A neat desk is the sign of a weak mind.” She knew she was making excuses for herself! I went on to do the same thing as an adult. I had a lot of plans, a lot going on my mind, post-it notes all over my brain. I had piles of things I wanted to get to someday. Well, as they say, someday never comes. Then when you have a free moment all you have is a messy desk.

Well, sometime after I became an adult, I grew up. I realized that someday wasn’t coming, or at least not too soon. Or at least not today. So, I decided to take care of the paperwork I had been stacking, hang the photos, and simply put things away. Maybe I would get to some of the things I had been “planning” to do, but while I was busy doing other things, why not file planned projects neatly in the file cabinet? Or pack them neatly in a box? And if I don’t get to them someday, you know what? It’s ok. Why do we torture ourselves?

Once I cleared off all of the things I didn’t care enough about to attend to right away, all that was left was today’s to-do list. Once I completed those tasks, I did another profound thing–I threw it away. After that, guess what was on my desk–Nothing! Seeing a clear work space launches me into action. I want to write. I want to create new things. And then I want to clean them up so I can enjoy the same excitement the next day I visit my room.

I feel this way about writing, too. Just as the desk is like an archaeological dig, with the most recent trappings of life on the top layer, our minds are cluttered with our most current concerns on the top, older issues further down, childhood memories usually buried deep. When I sit down to write, I’m thinking about the chores that need to be done, what to make for dinner, getting ready for work tomorrow, even the song on the radio. I’m not thinking about writing some great work of literature. (Maybe I’m daydreaming about it,¬† but I’m not sketching the plot.) In order to produce anything more interesting than a status post on Facebook, I have to clear the top layer of current clutter in my mind. Julia Cameron’s idea of morning pages, or journaling, does that for me. Then, like having a clear desk– I can think.

About Amy Nicholson

A busy wife and mother pausing to ponder the beauty and complexity of life and share it with words.
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1 Response to Decluttering

  1. Dick Benton says:

    It occurs to me that all writers have a desire to be read by others, that being read somehow justifies the effort. We want as many people to read us as we can, and although there is nothing wrong with that, I contend that if one person outside of your personal space is meaningfully affected by what you have taken hours or days to compose, then your effort was completely worthwhile. And I love your byline. It is so YOU.


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