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I Can’t Even Look at a Mess…And Yet I Must with My Writing

I Can’t Even Look at a Mess…And Yet I Must with My Writing

“Babe, are you hoarding Tupperware again?” I asked Paul the other day. I pack his lunch every morning, and sometimes he forgets to bring the Tupperware home from work.

Later, when we got in Paul’s car to go to the horse circus (Cavalia – and that’s another story), I gasped. Littering the passenger side and strewn across the backseat were at least a week’s worth of Tupperware. “Ah ha!” I shouted. “I’ve solved the mystery!”

“Oh, yeah,” Paul said sheepishly. “Now I remember why I didn’t want to take my car.”

Apparently Paul hates washing Tupperware. “I avoid taking them in the house, because then I know I’ll have to wash them.”

“If it’s that big a deal, I’ll wash them.” Not that I love washing Tupperware, but I would rather have clean Tupperware stacked neatly in the kitchen cabinet than dirty Tupperware growing mold in Paul’s car.

 *  *  *

I am a very tidy person, and I like organization. I used to arranged my music CDs alphabetically by artist. My clothes are currently hanging in rainbow order in my closet – white then pink then red then orange and so on.

I take after my grandmother. Legend has it that when my brother and I were young, she would follow us around with a Dust Buster, and to this day, when my dad sets down a glass at my grandma’s house, he will announce, “I am not finished drinking out of this!” Otherwise, she’ll swoop in and wash it before the ice has a chance to melt.

Although I don’t follow Paul around with a Dust Buster, I do clean up after him sometimes. “I’ll wash those,” he’ll say to me about his lunch Tupperware in the sink, but when an hour has gone by and the dishes are still there, I sometimes break down and wash them myself.

“I was going to do that,” he’ll say. I know he feels bad.

“What you have to understand,” I tell him, “is that I can’t look at a mess without wanting to clean it up.”

In fact, it’s more than that. When my surroundings are untidy and unorganized, my brain feels the same way. I can’t think, I can’t concentrate. Every morning before I sit down at my computer to work, I straighten the couch cushions. I can’t work if the living room isn’t tidy.

Our living room.  The candelabras and most of the books are Paul's.  The painting, couch, and Picasso print are mine.

Our tidy living room. 

That’s why revising my latest novel has been so difficult. I decided to gut it down to the bare bones and restructure it, so right now, my novel is very messy. I’m having trouble deciding the order of events, and which events to include. I keep moving chapters around and rethinking character motivations. I’ve been deleting things and adding things and then deleting the things I’ve just added. I have about fifteen different versions and four different outlines. Last week, I kept saying to myself, “I just need to get the novel organized. Then I can relax.” All I want is one clear outline to hang everything on. But it seems impossible. The story has grown so messy, and I am so confused.

Now I realize why, for so many years, I kept writing novels and then not revising them. I’m like Paul – I’m avoiding the part I hate, even though I know it’s necessary. Because I’d be lying if I said that this messy revision stuff isn’t causing me some anxiety.

 *  *  *

Paul and I have had to learn to compromise since moving in together. Now he makes the bed every morning and cleans up dinner every night, but he’s still hasn’t reached my level of tidiness (and probably never will.) I have to learn that apartment doesn’t have to look absolutely perfect all the time. I’ve made my peace with the way Paul stacks his clean clothes on top of his dresser instead of putting them in the drawers. I have to learned to be (somewhat) OK with the way he leaves socks on the floor of the bedroom or water glasses on the mantle in the living room.

I’m learning to accept that things can’t be perfectly organized all the time. And that includes my writing.

*  *  *

A few weeks ago, I realized that even though my side of the room looked neat, I had been stuffing unfolded clothes willy-nilly into my dresser drawers. So I dumped out all the drawers and made piles of clothes around the bedroom. I made a Goodwill pile and reassessed how I wanted my drawers organized – workout clothes in the top drawer, t-shirts and tanks in the middle, long-sleeve shirts in the bottom. I thought that if Paul were to walk in, he would probably be surprised. Here I was, making a complete mess!

But then I refolded everything and stacked all the clothes back in the drawers neatly. Ahh, organization. It makes me so happy!

I had to go through a stage of messiness in order to get my clothes better organized. And that’s where I am right now with my writing, too: surrounded by piles of words and plot points, reassessing how I want my novel to be structured.  It’s an uncomfortable stage for me, but a necessary one. And something I’ve avoided doing in the past.

Sometimes I worry that I’m never going to get this novel into good shape and all fifteen confusing versions are going to sit in my computer, growing mold. But I don’t think that will happen. Because I can’t look at a mess without wanting to clean it up.

I've learned to make my peace (somewhat) with stages of disorganization.

I’ve learned to make my peace (somewhat) with stages of disorganization.

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About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

2 responses »

  1. “I’m learning to accept that things can’t be perfectly organized all the time. And that includes my writing.”

    A quote I have learned to live my writing life by is this… “Don’t get it right – get it WRITTEN!” | Lee Child

    Reply
  2. Even my mother cannot stand in front of anything messy without cleaning it up.
    I too realised that when the surroundings are clean it has a direct effect on our minds and helps us to sort things better.So I started cleaning up a year ago.This is coming from a girl who belongs to the country of of spoilt,lazy teenagers who always have someone to do their work and never a dearth of servants.

    Reply

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