Declutter Your Writing Process (Phase 1 of 2)

Writing is especially cluttery

Of all the creative modalities, writing is not the most straightforward.

If I draw something from direct observation, I put pencil to paper. I observe and I make marks. I’m using a single sense: vision.

With writing, I use all five senses. I write imaginatively, I roam far and wide…

I consult some text jots from an old journal, some research material from the internet, and some typewritten pages from a friend . . .

My desk gets cluttered as I work to assemble everything into a single coherent draft.

My mind gets cluttered with ideas that the project needs to look like X or achieve Y.

The longer I work, the more clutter accrues.

It is necessary for all writers to de-clutter from time to time.

To clean your desk, to streamline your folders, to streamline your process. To reconnect to your sources of inspiration.

Getting real about clutter

You know you’re cluttered when you would rather work anywhere than your own computer at your own desk during your usual writing hours.

You know you’re cluttered when you have to knock back several shots of espresso to even begin to fathom how to attack the next chapter in your book.

It’s OK. Clutter happens. Clutter is a normal and natural part of the creative life.

The problem emerges when we fail to notice and admit that we are cluttered.

It’s common for writers to get caught in a downward spiral of increasingly urgent deadlines, obligations and interruptions.

This creates a problem when it comes time to feel … you know, inspired.


The problem is clutter.

There is never a time like the present for clearing clutter.

At the outset, it sounds like clutter clearing will be a lot of work, and above all else, when you’re cluttered, you don’t feel an abundance of time and energy to take on new tasks.

However, my experience has been that clearing clutter actually gives me energy. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say that I feel freer when I clear clutter.

When I get rid of old useless documents, I feel lighter. When I toss out books that I will never get around to reading, I have more energy. When my workspace is clean and conducive to getting things done, it’s not just my workspace that benefits. I myself feel clear.

How to implement clutter clearing

  • Phase 1: get rid of physical clutter
  • Phase 2: get rid of what’s cluttering your process

Getting rid of physical clutter

This phase is all about getting real about the stuff that you have surrounding you. Clearing clutter is simple, but doing it as thoroughly as is really necessary requires a fair bit of introspection or self work.

Referring you to Karen Kingston’s book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui is the best approach.

Get the book, be inspired, and follow her suggestions. You’ll be amazed. I was.
I was a bit put off at first when I picked up the book and started reading it. I didn’t like her tone. I felt like she was talking down to me, judging me for the way I lived, calling me out on my “clutter.”

Then late one night — it must have been 2 am — even though I was exhausted from a day of working both physically and creatively, I decided on a whim to start clutter clearing my books. I had a whole wall of books. Shelves built into the wall. Lots and lots of books. All through my life I collected books, and when I moved or got rid of old stuff, I made an exception for books. “Books don’t count,” I would say. I really didn’t believe that something as enlightened as a book could contribute to what Karen Kingston was calling “clutter.”

Nevertheless, I felt inspired to give it a shot. I went to a book on the shelf, I picked it up and looked at it and tuned into how I felt when I had that book in my possession.

I discovered that many of the books I had on my shelves actually made me feel stupid or lazy that I would never get around to reading them, or insecure that I didn’t fully appreciate or understand them. I tossed book after book. I tuned in and I tossed.

Two hours passed like this, and I had several stacks of books to get rid of. I still had lots of books on my shelves (I would later get rid of most of these, as it turned out). I felt fantastic. I could have kept doing that for several more hours. The process of clearing old clutter was profoundly energizing.

Since then, I have made it a regular practice. I’m not a minimalist, but I am always on the lookout for stuff to get rid of. It just feels good.

Not ready to buy the book yet? Use Karen Kingston’s clutter test to help you decide what to keep and what to get rid of.

In the next post I will discuss phase two of the clutter clearing process.

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