For me, writing a book is like a relationship. You make a commitment and in order for it to be as successful as possible, a good environment is necessary. Think about it—if you start a relationship in the midst of chaos and debris, it might lack a certain necessary clarity as it progresses.
Thus, after months (or even years) of researching a book and after drafting the massive outline, it’s time to actually sit down and get what’s in my head onto the page. For me, that process always begins with a massive cleaning project centered on my workspace. It’s like preparing the area that I’ll be living in (yes, that’s almost literal) for six months or longer for the relationship between my computer and my imagination. Clutter never works when I’m starting out so I pull everything off the desk, discard what shouldn’t be there, file what I want at arm’s length and form neat little stacks of notes, folders and the like.
I then wash the large window that I look out of, giving it a sparkle it hasn’t seen since starting the last book. The same thing goes for the myriad of hanging crystals and cherished rock gemstones I’ve acquired over the years. The rough-cut crystals, raw citrine, calcite and amethyst and more are supposed to confer heightened creativity. I’m not sure if that’s true but I’m not going to risk it and get rid of them now.
When I put everything back on the desk, I do it with great purpose and intention. The coffee cup will always be placed in front of my phone but the combo of astragalus and ginseng that I make every morning and pour into my special insulated teacup goes in a different spot. Yes, yes, I can get very anal about that in the beginning of my projects. The three large penholders have also been cleaned out and all the old, dried up pens are tossed out. I even have my favorite candles that smell like coffee and sandalwood right next to me and plan on lighting to create more atmosphere. The same thing goes for the bowl of sand that holds just one of the many hundreds of pungent incense sticks I’ve bought over the years.
I then carefully place my husband’s photos in front of the window, stand back and admire what a neat and organized person I am.
Then I start to write. And something odd begins to happen. The beautiful order and system I’ve created gradually collapses. A month goes by and then two months and the desk is looking a bit chaotic. The carpet around my chair is stacked with folders that hold hundreds of pages of notes. I could attempt to vacuum the area but why bother? I’d have to lift up everything and where would I put it? Where once there was a glorious three feet or more of empty space on my desk, now I’m lucky to find eighteen inches that is free of paper, bills that need to be paid, more paper, unread catalogs, yet more paper, calendars, checkbooks, books and other odd assortments that don’t belong there. I once found a lonely doorknob in the mess and I have no clue how it got there.
Going into month three, it looks like a nuclear bomb hit. Dead flies, bees and yellow jackets litter the windowsill, the phone, the good luck crystals and the stacks of files. There’s nothing that isn’t dusty, including the computer screen. None of the candles have ever been lit because I remembered that I can be clumsy sometimes and shift paper around too close to the candle flame. The incense is only a quarter of the way burned down because I forgot how I start to choke on the aroma if the windows aren’t wide open. The trashcan has been overflowing for at least three weeks. I can’t find anything by this point except the teacups and coffee mugs. I say that with the plural because instead of washing them, I just bring in a new one and allow the old ones to gather dust and collect more dead flies. It’s a disaster zone, but I’m still writing and the relationship has hit that period where you find out what each of you are made of. The question becomes can I function within the chaos after having that brief, sweet moment of pristine beauty that began this journey? The answer is usually “yes” and when it’s all done, I sit back and shake my head at all the upheaval around me.
No worries. I’ll start the process all over again and swear it’s going to be different the next time. Really, it will. I promise.
Laurel Dewey is our Author of the Month, which means we are offering sensational deals on all of her books. You can learn more about it here.