Monday, October 29, 2007

Clutter or creativity?

So, what happened?

A few Christmases ago, this was the question posed by a concerned relative while standing in my messy office. Her hand swept over the theatre-shaped cardboard collage with its montage of magazine cutouts, plastic squirt guns, and stuffed latex gloves. It swung past the big bulletin board and over quotes by Thoreau, notes from authors, and photos of Sarah Paretsky, Dave Barry, Elmore Leonard, and Ray Bradbury, not to mention scraps of paper with dangling notes-to-self. From beneath her crumpled brow, she peered at the grease board with its hand drawn map of Mudd Lake, the imaginary Michigan town that is home to my Kate London Mystery Series.
And speaking of the Kate London Mysteries, did I mention the reams and reams of paper, a.k.a. work-in-progress, that littered the surfaces?
What? What's the problem?

Then I got what she meant.
My office used to be somewhat, err---neat----at least she thought so.
A light went on behind her eyes.

Ohhh. The book!

Now, I've always been a messy worker—I shoved papers off camera to shoot the above photo for a curious reporter. I wanted her to at least see I had a desk, but in the past, I made big efforts to hide the major clutter.

Not so, any more. A book-in-progress is not something that likes to be shoved into a closet. Collages don’t fare well in the dark, and creative notes seem to like dangling at odd angles to grab your attention.

My fictional writing seems to need a physical space—I need the visuals around me to work—not that I can't do so at Starbucks or the library, but home base requires the stuff of a writer—the nest if you will.

So, what happened? Creativity? Or maybe I just got tired of hiding it all in the closet.
What does your writing space look like? Are you a neatnik? A clutter-lover? Somewhere in between?


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

My first thought was "how tidy!" Then I read with relief that you had spruced up your writing area for the photo. Made me feel better ... much better.

I write in a corner of my large bedroom. The top of the desk is generally a disaster. Next to the desk is a large filing cabinet with a cat almost always sleeping on top of it. And next to that is a "Year At-A-Glance" wall calendar. The floor around my desk is cluttered with several pairs of shoes and cat toys. The Jaffarian household pretty much lives in this corner of the apartment.

You are right about needing a "nest." Unless I'm traveling, this is where I write best.

Susan Goodwill said...

Yes--Sue Ann, nest seems to be the term. Should we coin a new word here? How about the MEST?

(I feel like a hypocrite posting that picture when every square inch of surface is covered with mess as I type this!)

G.M. Malliet said...

Thanks for the heads up. If anyone should for any reason ask to photograph my office, I'll tell them I do all my writing in a coffee shop.

My office (a former bedroom) was wallpapered by the previous owner in a pattern of large blue-and-pink birds and flowers. We call it the Bird Room and how I can tune out this distraction while I write I've no idea. They are all staring at me, these birds. All the time. There are about 75 of them. Some day I'll have to count them and make sure they aren't multiplying.

I have meant for four years to paint over this paper but you know how that goes.

But you were asking about the clutter. I don't have clutter. I have crucial bits of paper that I need at my fingertips at all times. And the crucial bits are definitely multiplying.

Nina Wright said...

Susan--I love the look of your Office, a.k.a. MEST.

Having moved four times in the past five years, my first priority in assessing a new space is always to scope out my prospective Office. Note the capital letter. No other rooms are ever capitalized, not even the kitchen or bathroom.

If living is, as I believe, the art of balancing almost unlimited chaos against a most modest and probably illusory degree of control, then that is what a Writer's Office must be, too. You have achieved it!


Rick Bylina said...

Mine is neither fish nor fowl, spring-fresh or foul, tidy nor superfund site. It swings like a pendulum. As NANO approaches, it is cleaned to be ready for the rush, but soon, sticky notes will pop-up like tulips, squiggley lines and odd diagrams will appear on the white board like the residue of slugs in the garden in the morning, papers with lists will cover the previously pristine surface like a sudden snow fall, reference books will lay everywhere like an avalanche of boulders along the highway. Lists and reference notes will fill my online file. Checklists will be created. Sleep will be thwarted with thoughts in the night. Notes, covered with ideas that will sound alternately weird and brilliant in the morning, will trail like Hansel and Gretels bread crumbs from the bed to the desk.

And at some most unfortunate moment the day before thanksgiving, my wife will rush into the room and invade my thoughts like an idea-seeking missile. "Company's coming. Clean up this mess." The current thought will crash like a child's building block structure. I'll cry for a few moments and clean up again only to discover a treasure trove of lost ideas and thoughts that need a home, and I'll file them away appropriately as I straighten up to descend again into the madness of my writing process all over again (of course, after the turkey and pies or whatever the interruption might have been).


Susan Goodwill said...

Oddly enough, this post makes me want to clean my office. I think it just hit that critical mass where even my muse is starting to curl her lip in disgust.
G. M.--you must feel like Tippi Hedron in that phonebooth in the Birds!

Joe Moore said...

I must be the neat-Inker. My mother used to say, cluttered room, cluttered mind. I rebelled for a while but finally came around. I'm the guy who draws the outline of the tools on the pegboard before hanging them up. Anal retentive? Guilty as charged. So when you walk into my home office, wipe your feet. :-)

Felicia Donovan said...

My mind is cluttered enough with all these characters mouthing off at me all the time and plots twisting 'round and 'round. Hence I can only take so much external clutter, so I tend to fall on the tidy side (but not nearly as tidy as Joe).

I will admit, however, that reorganizing the stacks of SINC newsletters and MWA brochures into chronological order and scrapbooking publicity mentions is a good excuse to not write.

Mark Terry said...

I'm somewhere in between. I'm also quite lucky, I have a very large office with, yes, folks, you can start hating me now...

3 desks!

Yes, I have one oak desk, the original desk, that was intended originally to be non-computer desk. Occasionally it is, but mostly it has neat to semi-neat stacks of nonfiction works in progress, ie., file folders for each project, a folder where I keep receipts, and various things like the phone, my Rolodex and a collection of pens and paperclips.

Then I have my computer desk, which also has cubbies where I keep things like notepads, Post-Its, more pens in a neat box, extra batteries for the digital voice recorder, my checkbook, the backup hard drive.

Then I have a folding table that holds my laser printer, numerous disk boxes, three-ring binders, and this is where the fiction folders grow.

I also have numerous bookcases, three filing cabinets, two file boxes, a rocking chair, a futon, a fax machine, a fan and boxes of my own books.

Is it neat? Probably not. Organized? Yes, very.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Geez, Mark. I don't have that much stuff in my entire apartment!

I might add, that the only non-neat area of my home is my writing area. And, Joe, I cling to the adage: "A cluttered desk, an uncluttered mind."

Mark Terry said...

I live in an 1800 sq. ft. ranch. Luckily, a big chunk of the basement was finished off--2 rooms. One of them is my office and it's about 15X20. I've accumulated things over years of writing, esp. the desks and filing cabinets. The futon used to be in the room next door (The Bat Cave) where my wife slept when she was working midnights. The folding table was just a damned good idea when OfficeMax had them on sale, and I "inherited" the computer desk after my father's death.

And bookcases, well, you can never have enough bookcases.

Just keep in mind, I'm a full-time writer, so I spend 8-10 hours a day here. It'd drive me nuts to have a multi-use room.

Felicia Donovan said...

"A cluttered desk, an uncluttered mind."

Oh, no, Sue Ann! And here I thought if I could ever talk you into returning to your New England roots that we could share space, but I suddenly hear the theme song to "The Odd Couple" playing in the background...

Bill Cameron said...

My writing space looks like the Starbuck's at SE 20th and Division in Portland.

Susan Goodwill said...

Now, that solves the problem!