Clutter Monster

20 Sep

It’s been a long week. Last weekend, I was the Best Man in Jeremy’s wedding (it was a lovely wedding, he and Amber lit up whatever room they were in). I had as nice a time as is possible to have while wearing a tuxedo. There are many pictures of me bringing down the side of well-groomed men, because while everyone had lovely haircuts and things…my shaggy mess of hair was terrifying, AND I forgot to shave that morning. AND it rained, so the humidity in the air made my hair slowly grow more and more alarming, until it looked like something that would sneak off in the night and raid the henhouse. I looked like a homeless person in a suit. (My wife, who was a bridesmaid, decided to show me up by looking fantastic the whole time ; she’s always pulling stunts like that).

Anyway! Long week catching up on school, following a couple long weeks. Now that Zach is a footloose mobile human being, most of my time is spent hunched over, running after a two-foot-tall human being who is off to endlessly cause trouble.

Somewhere in the past two or three weeks, my novel, The Neon God broke, and I can tell you that that brought me down. Not least because this is the eighteenth or so draft I’ve done of that novel since the year 2000. 18 drafts, all of at least 25,000 words. It’s depressing. I knew what was wrong, and I have a HUGE pile of ideas on how to start again and get it right. And I’ve been dutifully writing notes. I decided that perhaps my writing ideas and my writing needs were no longer being met by my writing skills, my writing approach, you see what I mean? The way I write hasn’t basically changed since I started. It hasn’t needed to. But now, I need to build better structural support for my buildings. I needed new methods. So I’ve begun building a foundation for my novel: a layer of character articles and outlines and world history and science and things, me just pouring out everything I think about the novel onto paper and into articles, trying to build so sturdy a layer that then I can write the novel.

(And an aside, and a question for you: How do YOU outline a novel, if you do? What’s your method? I’ve never previously done it, and while I have a basic method I’m content to use, I’m curious what other people do. So what do you do?)

Except…I haven’t even written notes much.  Mostly, I’ve been tired and distracted and, let’s be honest, a wee bit cranky without knowing why (except the obvious reason, which is that I’m ALWAYS on edge and cranky and miserable when I go too long without writing fiction. I need it, or I get the shakes.)

What has all this got in common? How do I tie together these unrelated paragraphs of griping?

Well, I got to wondering if my home isn’t helping me any. It’s been so busy, you see, and Zach is such a handful, that the place is a mess, an absolute terrifying mess. It took ages for me to get some dishes done. THe kitchen still isn’t tidy. Never you mind the bedroom and our closet. The dining room table, where I have to do my work (because I can keep an eye on Zach’s roaming from there) was piled hugely high with stuff stuff stuff…

…cluttered home, cluttered desk, cluttered mind. If that’s not an adage, it probably should be.

My office is lovely-clean, but I never get to go work in there, because it’s a small shut-off room and I can’t watch Zach.

So today, I cleaned the dining room table. It took work, but I got it done. And you know what, it did actually help (and realizing that it helped inspired me to write this). And so I’ve turned my eye toward the rest of the apartment.

I bet you if I got everything clean, if I got all the extraneous junk and clutter that we have collected out of our lives, I’d write happier, I’d live easier. Both myself and my wife would be less stressed. Any time we’ve really pushed and gotten a decent area cleaned in the house, it’s always felt wonderful and relaxing.

(This is hardly a new idea, or a new principal, and certainly it’s not me originating anything at all. Any Buddhist Monk worth his salt would say the gentle, humorous Buddhist equivalent of “Duhhhh, Pete…”)

So, I’ll see what happens (and I’ll update it here, for those who are riveted by the idea of Pete Cleans Home! which probably means you don’t have any good cable channels). I want to get the house cleaned. Everything in its place and fufilling its function means, in theory, that clutter doesn’t have to build up. And if I can clean out the boxes of to-be-sorted stuff filling up a big closet, AND a storage room, AND the nooks and crannies…and if I can finish babyproofing, I can get rid of the jumbling clutter which is the jury-rigged babyproofed system we have now.

Who knows. Maybe it’ll help.

Of course, it might ALSO just me finding something big and time-consuming to avoid writing. That’s crossed my mind too. So we’ll see.


Posted by on September 20, 2008 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Clutter Monster

  1. tjwriter

    September 21, 2008 at 7:50 am

    At least I feel less alone now. It only gets bigger and more impressive the way your little one can follow behind you undoing every bit of cleaning you just finishhed. It’s frustrating, and sometimes I wondered what the point of cleaning in the first place. Of course, I’m sure you spouse does help you clean some, so I’m sure that makes a difference.

    On the de-cluttering front, it is time consuming and distracting away from other activities, but it is so worth it. I’ve slowly been tackling ‘zones’ of the house and taking large bags of stuff to Goodwill. I’m still working on this stuff. When I get some time off work, I’m going to continue working on this stuff and getting the house in shape. I’ve learned the hard way that less is more, and I’m working to get rid of things we don’t need.

    Having a kid made it so easy to get over my pack rat tendencies. Who needs all that crap in the way with a little one running around?

  2. Pete Tzinski

    September 21, 2008 at 8:01 am

    My wife doesn’t help me clean at all. I think she’s genetically incapable of it, I tease her about that sometimes (I think she tends to overthink it, you know, she’ll look at the dining room table and all at once try to mentally figure out what to do with EVERYTHING…whereas I go slow and stodgy and just throw stuff out. Er. occasionally bills.) But I don’t begrudge her that, because she does work and I don’t.

    Well, except for the life-swallowing thing that is a small child. 🙂

    But the decluttering is so worth it, you’re right, and having a kid DOES help jump-start that. I pack-rat because I usually can’t be bothered to sort stuff out, so it gets stored everywhere.

    When I get into it, I push it almost to the extreme. Some days, honest, I’d go live in a small prison-sized room and own nothing but some books and some paper and pens and just live like that. But I’m aware that’s not reasonable, since I DO have sane people around me who would’t be keen on it. So instead, I throw stuff away.

    Besides, I realized the other day that if I REALLY clean everything out, I have a big walk-in closet I can turn into a walk-in library instead. Which is good, because the living room is cluttered with things in odd positions, put there to block a small toddler from pulling big books off the shelf.

    (Although, I’m proud to say, he knows what a book is, and he doesn’t treat it like a toy. His books or my books. He takes them down, puts them on his lap, and turns the page; points and makes sounds at me. Whether it’s a book of Grover and animals, or Stephen King’s The Stand. I’m proud of that. He knows books aren’t toys and should be treated gently.)

    That reminds me, in no discernable way…I need to do a tea post. After I make some tea…

  3. Elaine Saunders

    September 23, 2008 at 8:39 am

    If you’re stuck on plotting, why don’t you write each scene on an index card or strip of paper? You then put them in order, adding or rearranging the order of scenes as necessary.

    This is particularly helpful if you’re plotting a multi viewpoint novel because, by highlighting each character’s scene in a different colour, you can also get a balance between the characters to ensure one does not dominate all the action.

    As you’re plotting in this amount of detail, lots of surprising things also occur that you can then slip in easily.

    I chanced upon this method when a novel I was plotting came to a complete stop but, by breaking it down this way, rearranging earlier scenes and plotting on small strips of paper, it went off to a flying start again.

    It’s worth a try.

    Elaine Saunders
    Author – Fiction Writing Exercises

  4. Pete Tzinski

    September 23, 2008 at 11:34 am

    I’m not so much stuck as I don’t naturally take to plotting. Sitting down to plot, I tend to just get impatient and want to write the story. I’m not a natural planner. (Which is part of what screws me up, as the stories get more and more complex, and things like toddlers mean I can keep less and less in my head).

    I like that idea, though. Writing scenes on index cards, and then fiddling with them. i don’t know all the scenes, of course, but I know a lot of them. And by writing THOSE down, one could also see the places where space is needed between scenes, and that leads you to consider the scenes that go in between.

    Furthermore, it IS a multi-viewpoint novel. It could comfortably be three novels, seperately, something that I have to keep in mind. So I can see a fair amount of value in the suggestion, Elaine. AND, because I’ve never done it before, it lends a certain novelty aspect to the process, which usually overrides the impatience (“shiny!” always wins over “bored…”)


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