Declutter (It’s Good For the Soul and Your Writing)

June 4, 2011

All rights reserved to myself. Please do not steal or repost without my permission. Thank you.

A writer friend of mine got me thinking about this subject with her recent posts on OmmWriter, mental Feng Shui, and her personal gains and obstacles with that ever-present irritant that creeps in on us. Yes, I do mean clutter. The stacks of papers, the bills yet to be filed, the books piled up on our floor, the laundry that needed to be done two days ago, the grudges we’re still holding against the erratic assholes who cut us off three freaking times in the gas line at the only station awesome enough to sell American fuel for 10 cents less than the other stations nearby. (Although, if I were the type to get annoyed enough, I’d probably just hit the last pig who cut me off…)

What was that? Yes, you heard me right. We all think about clutter as that junk that piles up around us but what about the garbage we let build up inside of us? Why are we hanging onto it? So that we can return the favor the next time we see that jerk in the me-too hot rod? Honestly, perhaps if you were my husband but I cannot tell one brand car painted white from its twin brother.

As writers, we take this junk and we twist it into useful bits of story that create three-dimensional characters, worlds, and those funny moments where we find ourselves peeing our pants or those awful minutes where we’re sobbing because we killed our favorite bad guy. Great as these bits are, however, they can also inhibit us from proceeding forward. Take a recent upheaval in my own life for an example. My husband serves as a U.S. Marine and just deployed. We also just moved from Japan 7 months ago. That seems like a long time to most people. In military life, it isn’t. It took us four months just to get housing, and to top it all off, we moved in two days before my husband was due out into the field for a training exercise–they graciously gave him 24 hours from the time the rest of the unit got their rifles (at 6 pm PST on a Thursday) to help me unpack our basic stuff. Needless to say, he left me half-swallowed up by boxes and piles of stuff I really just wanted to toss. And he was gone for a month. And when he returned, he had a few weeks before he deployed. Not to mention his two-week leave got tanked halfway through it, ruining our plans to see his parents that very weekend.

I’m not complaining about this. Jaded as it sounds, I am used to the lifestyle, used to my best friend and lover being gone in a moment’s notice. What I wasn’t used to–what made it so damn hard this time–was the plug inside me that kept me from writing a single word. I was used to being able to be upset and to sit down and charge forward in my story because I could push aside all the crap.

What I realized somewhere in the midst of this is that the crap had reached a maximum. I had to clean myself out. I had to let whatever I was holding go. Again, I’m usually fairly good at this. I’m no grudge-holder. I’ve learned that being laid back helps more than getting wound up when things go wrong. Thank you military lifestyle!

There is a moment when even the things you thought you had let go resurface. We push and push and ignore the things that creep into our lives until *poof* we’re “blocked”. Now, some might not believe in writer’s block. Some writers out there say that it’s nonsense, and they may very well be right. They’ve got their systems for pushing through the hard times. I applaud them (and you, if you’re one of them). Life, regardless of who we are, tends to be a wild roller coaster. At one point or another, it is going to throw us up into the air to see if we float back down. Some of us just have more unsettled lives than others. It therefore behooves us to take the time out of our busy schedules to go through the junk in our bodily attics and toss a few things.

For me, it was as simple at taking a break from writing altogether and then not rushing the restart once I felt ready to begin again. I needed to recharge. I needed a break. Part of this recharging process was beginning to teach Pilates again, and to resume yoga classes. Forget the spiritual aspects of the lifestyle of the latter, the physical exertion alone from these classes challenged me not because it was hard but because I was already struggling. It was awesome! It was what I needed to break the chains that had been holding my mind down. The five minute focus at the beginning and end of yoga class, and the concentration Pilates exercises require, got my head organize and let go. It was not a conscious effort. My subconscious did it and when it was ready, it spit out its first great idea in months.

Say you don’t have time for a full class. Why not try deep breathing? Set your egg timer or phone for 15 minutes and lie on the floor with a pillow beneath your head. (I recommend a phone with a soothing timer app if possible; my egg timer nearly gives me a heart attack every time.) Take several slow, deep breaths in and out through the nose. When you’re ready, add a count to your breath. Inhale for 4, hold for 2, exhale for 4, hold for 2. Focus on the count. Acknowledge any passing thoughts but don’t be consumed by them. They’ll still be there in 15 minutes.

Iuguolo. All rights reserved to the artist! Please do not steal or repost. Thank you.

Interested in cleaning up your computer? Yeah, that’s right. OmmWriter. (http://www.ommwriter.com/) Really, really awesome program, and Dana Version I is free. (Who does not like free?!) I’ve used it consistently since my friend recommended it, and she herself gushed today about how much she got done in a small time frame. Look at it. Try it. It might just clear up your head.

Is physical clutter causing you problems? Turn off the TV, the texting, anything that gets you distracted and set your timer for 15 minutes. Grab a trash bag and start tossing and organizing. It’s amazing how much we can get done in a quarter of an hour.

And if it’s intake of clutter that you’re concerned about, try giving up TV altogether. I’ve never been more productive than when I did not watch television. Although I’ve been enamored with cable for a few months, it’s wearing off. I’ll probably be TV-free again here by the end of the summer. It’s amazing how much time and mental energy it can take up. Need I repeat the crazed dreams I have about one show or another?

Most of all, take the time to create space for yourself. You’ll feel better and feel less stressed, and get more accomplished in the run.

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