The Art of Making A Mess


These days, most of my work involves making a mess.

From my recent post sharing tips on catching your ideas and keeping track of them, you'd think that I am organized--and I'd like to think that, too. The sad reality is, while I do have organizational systems in place, my work habits and the life cycle of my projects have a tidal ebb and flow of messy to neat and back again.

At any given point of my process, my desk (and walls, and floor, and coffee table, and maybe the kitchen table, too) is covered in stacks of papers. When I am focusing on a particular project, working towards a deadline, these papers will all be related to that project.

When I finish, as I did when I wrapped up my first manuscript for submissions, and more recently with Somewhere In Between, I recycle all the old drafts that I already have stored digitally, but keep any handwritten dead darlings gathered in a folder--where they may resurface, a better fit for a different project. I give myself a day or two to bask in post-production tidiness, but then get back to work.

That's when everything comes back out.

All my works-in-progress open up. Stacks of papers--drafts in varying states of finished, pages of prompts, stickie notes--cover the surfaces of my apartment with the same unruly sprawl as a manuscript in the almost-final stages of developmental editing. My dear husband--who also works from home--is very patient with this mess.

Our rabbit, not so much.


Creative work is the slow but consistent accumulation of ideas, and then polishing those ideas into coherence. That can be reflected in our workspaces (or in some cases, small one bedroom apartments), where we should be allowed to make a bit of a mess.

The act of cleaning up after myself forces me to read every piece of writing I have tucked away in folders and binders and scrawled on napkins. I reintroduce myself to characters, and start seeing themes and storylines, until one story demands enough of my attention that I have to put all the other papers aside, and see where it will take me. 

While the "Inbox Zero" philosophy has long been my goal, I don't know if's a particularly reasonable expectation for me, or any creator.

I've given up on that pursuit, and have come to embrace the mess.

P.S.- It is worth noting that, yes, I am still in the mess-making stage, and thus can't yet report on my next work in progress. But soon. Soon.