Does a clean writing desk actually matter? I humbly but strongly hypothesize that it does.
It’s funny, this is one of those topics that elicits a strong response. There seems to be no middle ground. Many experts and professionals agree with my tidy desk stance, though there are a few writers/creatives/artists who insist chaos is key. Even if you’re in the “You Do You” camp when it comes to a messy desk, I challenge you to try a tidy, clean writing desk for one month. If you hate it, you can always go back to creative mayhem. In fact, chaos takes over pretty quickly if you allow it, right?
In my case, I always used to defend my disaster of a desk. I, too, claimed I needed a certain level of mess to be my creative best. But honestly, I just didn’t know how to clean my desk (I know that sounds impossible if you’re naturally organized) and I certainly didn’t know how to keep it clean. So I clung to the story that I needed mess, somehow. If you accept my challenge and write clean (ha!) for four weeks, you’ll really know whether you prefer creative chaos or, like me, only justify it.
I was listening to an organizational guru last week, and she said writers were the worst for messy desks. “They always want to have everything within reach!”
I still trend toward mess. In fact, the mess is creeping back onto my desk now! I have a library book (okay, two of those), a stack of bills and mail, a to-do list I refuse to make eye contact with, and an empty bowl from last night’s polenta supper at the writing desk (romantic, si?). But it’s okay, because I know how to reclaim my territory. I made the Clean Desk Challenge for people like me who need a quick win and easy, very tiny steps toward guaranteed success.
If you still need convinced, consider the following points, then sign up for the super-simple, five-day Clean Desk Challenge below:
Reflection of the Mind
In Ginger Moran’s fantastic workshop in June, she had us visualize our most cluttered work environments, then told us that those spaces represented our minds. I was horrified and a little sick, but I knew it was true. My desk is a reflection of my internal creative space. When I’m feeling my most productive and focused, my external surroundings reflect that order. But when I’m feeling pulled in all directions by circumstances, opposing project ideas, and obligations, my desk descends into disorder.
Could it be that when we’re feeling out of control, one of the best and first things we should do is tidy our immediate surroundings? We may be struggling just to survive, and there may be situations beyond our control, but by golly, we can control the surface of our desk. Just seeing that oasis of calm the next time you pass your desk will reassure you and give you confidence to take the next step.
If you’re feeling scattered, unmotivated, and unfocused, try decluttering your desk. It’s the first step to figuring out what to do next.
Space to Relax
Years ago, another teacher came to my classroom and wrinkled his nose. I mumbled an excuse for my desk, and he said, “Ugh, I don’t know how you do it; I could never work like that.”
Uhm, okay. I wanted to say something snarky to my friend, like, “Well, I can’t either but I have to because I don’t have time to do anything about it.” I didn’t though, because even as I thought it, I knew it wasn’t true. I could find time; but it just didn’t bother me as much as it bothered him. I was clutter-blind. I was also much less efficient that I could have been, and that’s one reason I was so busy!
Now, though, when I think of that exchange, I know he also meant he could never relax with a cluttered desk. For creative work, relaxation is just as important as efficiency and determination and hustle! You can be a productivity master, cranking out words like a printing press, but if you can’t relax you’re going to miss out on the richness of writing. Some of our best ideas come to us when we’re relaxed. Your writing desk needs to be a place that’s both inspiring and soothing. It’s a place where you should be able to sink into The Zone, where you lose yourself to the flow of writing. It’s hard to let go like that when you’ve got the keyboard on your lap because there’s a heap of dishes teetering on your desk…
Room to Be Creative
If you get a great idea, can you chase it? Or do you have to tell it to hold on while you clear enough room to perch at the corner of your desk. Do you know where your supplies are when you need them? Or do you lose the Muse while you’re digging through a shoebox for your erasable pen? Do you have the freedom to fall down whatever rabbit hole you’d like, or do you have to put it off ’til later (never?) because you have to pay the bills you stacked on your keyboard since you knew that was the only place you’d truly see them?
Listen, writer, you know how I feel about this. (And if you don’t, I’m going to say it again, of course!) You don’t get to choose writing; it chose you somehow. Something about writing captivated and compelled you. You didn’t sit down as a child and decide to write, you just ate up yards of paper and ran markers dry because you had to do it. That’s spooky. And that’s what you’re obstructing when you don’t give yourself room to create. Don’t fool yourself into thinking a thing like that will wait patiently for you to get to it. Prioritize your creative calling or it will show up when you don’t want it. You’ll lose sleep, get overstressed, and eventually end up depressed. One of the ways you can show respect to this gift that lives in you is to clear a space for it in your environment. Try it, and see what happens. Spooky, huh?
NOW YOU: Do you think a clean writing desk matters? How do you keep your creative space tidy?
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