Today, on Day 11 of Jeff Goins' challenge, we're being urged to declutter. There's a lot of junk that gets in the way of good writing. We need to get rid of this clutter in order to make our writing clean, and it's achieved in two ways: clearing our workspace, and getting rid of non-essentials.
I've only fairly recently discovered the value of existing in an ordered environment. I am the daughter of a hoarder and a Spartan, and have spent my adult life struggling with two opposing selves. I love my surroundings to be tranquil and neat and peaceful, and find that a tidy desk and clutter-free room are far more conducive to inspiration and a productive mind and copious literary output than a messy house littered with piles of laundry and trails of Duplo. But I retain items of sentimental and/or humour value and am naturally untidy. And when my neat side temporarily wins the battle, the consequences cause me to become happier and make a positive difference to my life. Take my wardrobe; they say that most women wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time. This is absolutely true of me, especially so during this last year when I have been gradually losing (some of) my pregnancy weight. It's very disheartening to open your closet, browse through the selection on offer and realise that most of your clothes are too baggy or no longer suit you because your body shape has been irreversibly altered since you bought them. So a few weekends ago I ruthlessly culled my wardrobe, packing away clothes that might be worn during and after any future pregnancies and allowing only the garments which fit and suit me right now to remain. I now have a far smaller collection of clothes, but I've been liberated from the tedious experience of wading through junk and nonsense on a daily basis. Getting dressed is much easier and pleasanter as a result. I know I'll have to keep a firm grip on myself in order to maintain an ordered wardrobe which contains only the things I need, but it'll be worth it. And the same applies to my desk; we spent a long time decluttering the study a few weeks ago, for precisely this reason, and the mess has built up again. The desktop is covered with electrical cables, stationery, paperwork and all sorts of other things that need housing elsewhere. In order to get serious about writing, I need to treat the mess as a threat to my self-respect as a writer and get rid of it. And to return to the list of Things To Do Instead Of Studying, it's absolutely true that before undertaking a significant task such as revising or writing, we need to get other things done before we sit down with a clear head and no distractions in front of us. A library book that genuinely needs returning, a pile of dirty coffee cups and a email requiring an overdue response should all be dealt with first, otherwise our thoughts will stray elsewhere and we won't produce our best work. But unlike our gigantic list of Ways To Delay, the act of clearing up should only take between five and thirty minutes, otherwise we'll spend a disproportionate amount of time preparing and never actually get around to writing.
As for getting rid of non-essentials, Jeff is talking here about words. Lazy phrases. Unnecessary passages. The equivalent of ill-fitting, unflattering clothes. Cutting them out and tossing them away will improve our writing and provide our readers with a better experience. There'll be fewer distractions. Nothing getting in the way of our core message. Anne Shirley, a beloved literary character and creation of the Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery, began her writing career by sending manuscripts to magazines, the earliest of which were rejected. When Anne sought advice from her neighbour Mr Harrison in Anne of the Island, he was merciless in his analysis of her beautiful prose. "Cut out all those flowery passages," he said. "There's one place where that Dalrymple chap talks even on for two pages, and never lets the girl get a word in edgewise." And finally, when Anne succumbed to despair and declared that she would never try to write a story again, Mr Harrison encouraged her thus.
"I wouldn't give up altogether. I'd write of people and places like I knew, and I'd make my characters talk everyday English; and I'd let the sun rise and set in the usual quiet way without much fuss over the fact."
This is, I think, exactly what Jeff Goins is trying to say. We need to cut our writing down to its purest essence. Get rid of hindrances and weakness. Cast aside anything that stops us saying what we want to say. And as I look at the 20,000 words I've written so far towards my current project - a guide to a symphonic song cycle - without feeling that its content justifies such a huge slice of my intended word count, I know that I'm going to need to do some serious decluttering of the text. But that's okay. In fact, it's positively encouraged, since it's one of the 15 Habits of Great Writers.
See you tomorrow!