Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Cleaning the Writing Life

Spring has finally arrived in Northern California. We think. We hope. After record rainfall and cold, a small rise in the mercury has everyone dressed in tanks, shorts and flip flops, which don't hide the goosebumps.

As a child, I remember my mother's spring cleaning every year, though our house was already spotless. The furniture was moved for a thorough dusting and vacuuming, the wooden floors were waxed and polished, the windows cleaned with vinegar and newspaper, the cobwebs removed from attic to basement. She washed every rug, blanket and quilt and draped them on the clothesline to dry in the mottled sunshine. Cabinets were cleaned out and the Contac paper replaced, even under the kitchen sink. The broken, useless and out-of-date were tossed. By the end of the week, the house had a great freshness and exuberance after the long winter.

I would love to continue her tradition (I see merit in it) but I'm lucky to accomplish the basic weekly cleaning that keeps our house livable. If I were to choose one area to freshen, it would be my writing space, and I'm not just talking about my desk. I'm thinking that a good spring cleaning could extend to my writing life, as well.

I'm thinking of the box beneath my desk with the dusty files of just-begun stories I toyed with when I was trying to find my writer voice, as Sharon mentioned in her last post. Or the numerous revisions of the manuscripts that quietly and naturally expired before publication. Copies of revisions for books already published. The resources - now out of date - that I'd gathered for a series I wanted to write, but now realize isn't the direction I want to go.

Copies of old writing magazines. Shelves of books on writing, the writer's life, writer's devotionals, essays on the writing, how to get published, how to market, market guides, dictionaries, thesauruses, pocket dictionaries and thesauruses, word finders, synonym finders, baby names, and even more baby names. An old computer that died in the middle of my last manuscript. Tapes & CDs of writers conference sessions. Binders with worksheets for the tapes & CDs from writers conference sessions.

Why would a person keep all of this stuff, aside from the too-busy life that doesn't allow for much deep cleaning? Does the clutter define me as a writer? I've begun the task of cleaning this out several times, but the job turned out to be overwhelming and I ended by packing it all back in the tubs. Keeping a few indicators of the writer's journey makes great sense. We need to see the progress we've made. But at some point, this clutter can hold a person back. It can whisper, "This is you, now and forever. No freshness can penetrate." It can speak of failures and misguided attempts to define ourselves when we were just wandering and trying to discover who we are.

So, aside from ridding ourselves of the obvious junk, how do we spring clean the writing life? It could begin with something as simple as changing up a subscription from a writing magazine we no longer read cover to cover with something new. Perhaps we begin our writing time composing or reading a poem. Maybe we try submitting an article or personal experience piece to a magazine or story collection, something that has a beginning and end so we can see the results immediately, even if it's never published. Or we begin our autobiographies, keeping the bigger picture of our lives in mind.

We rid ourselves of the negative self-talk that keeps us in doubt of our calling and makes us question the time we sacrifice for it. We treat our writing as a job and reestablish our boundaries. We consider our writing time an appointment we keep with ourselves. No one else needs to know the reason.

With the changes in publishing, we may need to forgo the vision we had of publication and be open to something new, or be willing to change our trajectory altogether. We need to ask for a new vision of our futures as writers from the One who knows the best desired outcomes for us.

Can you think of more ways to spring clean your writing life? I would love to hear!


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Yes, I like that, openness.

I'm there now. Constantly praying for next steps.

I liked that you mentioned ridding of negative self-talk. I envisioned all that change (and in my case Goldfish) I find stuffed in couch cushions.

Maybe I'd add read a book that helps you breathe easier. Spring is all about breathing easier.

So instead of just reading books on craft, are there any pure encouragement books having to do with writing? Oh, maybe like L'Engle's Walking on Water.

~ Wendy

Marian said...

I'll chew on this while I'm spring cleaning my home which is simply too gritty to ignore this year.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

On Saturday I helped my husband's aunts clean and organize his grandma's house. She passed away and we were going about the business of tossing, sorting and dusting.

We found some funny things! We found some surprises (china and silver and money...oh my!). We found some touching things (a book kept by my hubby's great grandpa on his honeymoon...G rated, thankfully).

It made me think about what I need to clean up in my house so people don't laugh too hard when I die.

As a writer I need to clean out some short stories...rework them and submit them. Otherwise I'm just hoarding them and that's not good. I need to give myself permission to have poopy first drafts that I toss in the trash after I revise them.

I want my kids to one day look at what I've written and be moved or laugh. I don't want them to say "Why did she keep all this crap?"

BK said...

The spring cleaning of my writing life will come late, as I’m in the midst of packing up to move (it is horrifying how much stuff you can accumulate in 14 years!). Very stressful. Not just moving, but going from being a lone wolf to having a roommate. But there must be a reason God is doing this right now in my life. I just don't know what it is.

In the literal sense, I'm throwing out old stuff accumulated from writers conferences and events and those old writers magazines that have been accumulating dust.

Then after the move and all the changes that entails, I need to sit down for a weekend and have a spring cleaning in my head. It's too full of old thoughts (there's that small serene space that envisions a writing life like Zane Grey--sit in your cabin and write then turn the manuscript in and leave the business end to someone else) which is being hammered by a thousand question marks floating around in my brain about how publishing is now and how far I'm willing to go as a writer in this new non-serene age where you have to wear all the hats, not just the writing one.

How badly do I want to get my work in front of other people? Badly enough to tweet, FB and otherwise give up life as a hermit? I've been delaying answering those questions as much as I've been delaying cleaning out my "junk" closet.

Either way, 2011 will be a year of major change.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Wendy - thanks for the vision of the Goldfish in the couch. So many negative thoughts, disappointments, and just bad idea that need to be vacuumed away.
Marian - I'll be joining you. We have a wedding coming up in June & relatives coming. :)
Susie - thanks for the observation. What are we leaving behind that is so telling about us?
BK - sorry you're in this space right now. And the quiet writing life is so appealing. I envision Harper Lee sitting in the 'Mockingbird' house by the window typing on her manual. Yes.

heavenlygurl said...

Thanks Ladies for inspiring!

I'm glad I didn't die last night. My nightie has definitely seen better days. LOL It has got to go...along with my tendency toward coddling negative self talk.

In an interview, the guy who wrote the Wimpy Kid books said his original manuscript was written for adults. His publisher suggested the change to kids genre.

He did, and now they're making a 2nd Wimpy Kid novel into a movie...

I had an idea similar to Wimpy Kids...two years the incomplete manuscript to prove it :-] Negative self talk won.

So for now, I endure my precious little grandson clutching his copy of Wimpy Kid in his precious little hands.


Bonnie Grove said...

I'm inspired by this wonderful post, Debbie! Timely, and true. We can't afford to get bogged down as we move ahead as writers! I'm grabbing my broom and hitting the books!

Kathleen Popa said...

Is it okay to keep a box of crayons in your desk just so you can open the box from time to time and smell them?

I've long aspired to the minimalist's lifestyle, but when I say this, people who know me laugh.

Debbie, I love this:

"It can whisper, 'This is you, now and forever. No freshness can penetrate.' It can speak of failures and misguided attempts to define ourselves when we were just wandering and trying to discover who we are."

I may still be wandering, but you make me want to jetison the baggage (but not the crayons) so I can wander new directions.

Heavenly Girl, I've had the same experience. The thing about an idea is not so much that you're the only one to think of it (you probably aren't), but that you believe in it, and have the vision to develop it to its best potential.

In 1968, Ursula Le Guin thought of a young boy sent to school to be a wizard, and wrote "A Wizard of Earthsea." In 1999 JK Rowling had a similar thought and wrote "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." What makes this good news is that the Wimpy Kid, run through Heavenly Girl's beautiful mind, would come out very different. It would be a whole new book. Take courage and write!

Wendy, really? A goldfish? Not a silverfish but a goldfish you forgot you had?

Anonymous said...

Debbie, I really enjoyed this post. For weeks I've felt that stirring to get to my spring cleaning. Not that I like it all that much, but it's something I HAVE to do, like nesting before a baby comes. Now that the rains have mostly stopped, I'll start with my windows.

In my writing life, I'm days away from finishing my 2-year WIP, and I'm so eager to write The End. Then, I'm going to do some evaluating, some purging, and devote myself to some serious prayer time about what comes next.

A very timely post, Debbie. Hope you're having a great weekend.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Spring? There are 5 fresh inches of snow outside and the farmer's almanac says this will go on for another 3 months.
I am feeling very rebellious. Therefore I will 'winter clean' all the rules. I will have a prologue, italics and dialect. I will exuberantly and abundantly use adverbs and use the omniscient view for 20 or more characters. By the time the reader is finished she might feel somewhat as I do at the moment.