30 March 2013

Resolve to spring forward! (And other stupid cliches you can use to improve yourself)

Isn't it odd that New Year's Resolutions and Spring Cleaning are such celebrated occassions of new beginnings, yet they're so far apart? The year is almost four months old, more than a quarter finished, and we're supposed to remember some vague promises we made in January? It's like Spring Cleaning is second chance amnesty for people who made resolutions but failed to act upon them. Or maybe it's a concession we make to ourselves in order to feel slightly less horrible about being filthy liars; "Okay, clearly we're not going to the gym. Again. Since that's the case, could we at least throw some of this junk away?"

Isn't it also odd that there are only two times a year when we're encouraged to develop new habits, get rid of harmful, unnecessary things and generally get our acts together? The rest of the year it's okay to be a disgusting, lazy slob and an utter train wreck. As long as we declare our intent to get/be better twice a year, we're doing fine, just like everybody else. It seems like there are certain things in life when all you need to know is that NOW! is what time it is.

For writers, people who spend inordinate amounts of time wandering around our own heads, our minds tend to be where a lot of our clutter ends up. Well, this is it, writers. NOW! is the time to clean it up, clear some space and get organized!

First things first, there are two kinds of writerly clutter in your mental attic:
  1. Useful
  2. Useless
The useful clutter is mostly ideas; stuff that you're going to write eventually. Whether they're story ideas, snippets of dialogue or whatever, they're good things that need to be put on paper at some point. Dealing with this kind of clutter is easy: Write it already. Even if you're not ready to use these things in a full-blown project, at least jot them down on index cards or in a notebook so you don't forget or otherwise lose them. Sure, this may result in actual physical clutter around your home or office in the form of stacks of index cards jammed into notebooks scattered all over the place, but that's a relatively good problem to have. The major benefit is that this will allow you to stop worrying about losing the good stuff you have piled up in your brain, and worry is part of the other kind of clutter, the useless kind.

Useless clutter is doubt, "what if?" scenarios, regret, fear or any other self-imposed anxiety that gets in the way and keeps us from doing what we're supposed to do, which is writing. Getting rid of the useless clutter is much more difficult as there is no one, simple method for eliminating it. You might need to talk to somebody. You might need to spend hours in quiet contemplation. You might need the love of a good man, woman, cat, goldfish, rugby team, etc. You might need a figurative or literal boot in your ass. You might need coffee. You might need all those things plus some other stuff. I wish I had that answer for you, because if I did, I'd be rich and I'd buy Peevish Penman and turn it into a fan site celebrating me and my genius creative output. As it is, I'm just like you in that I get cluttered from time to time and need help in figuring out how to get un-that way.

The point is, there is no right or wrong way to get rid of the useless clutter. When it comes to freeing yourself to realize the full scope of your creativity, the end always justifies the means. Find a way to get rid of that which keeps you from doing what you do and don't wait for the hands on a clock or a page on the calendar to tell you it's time to do so.

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Freelance Writers to Career Authors