Drains in Disguise

I was wrong–again.

For twenty years, I’ve told students and wannabe writers that you have to put the writing first! Do it before other things take over your day.

Fight the impulse to clean your kitchen first, or straighten your office, or clean up the mess the kids made before leaving for school.

“But I can’t work in chaos,” writers protest.

You know what? Neither can I anymore–at least not well! And when I force myself to, the work is doubly tiring. Doubly stressful. Much less satisfying.

Energy Drains in Disguise

Something I read today made me realize my advice might be a tad off. Not wrong altogether, since if we don’t make writing some sort of priority, we won’t do it. However, to eliminate energy drains in your life, you need to look at the whole picture. Certainly all the things you do in a given day take your energy. Every action you take on your lengthy “to do” list uses energy.

What you may not realize is that actions you don’t take use energy as well. Your disorganized office, the piles of laundry on the bedroom floor, the stack of bills to pay, the two birthday gifts to buy and mail today, the clothing needing repair–all this drains your energy reserves as well. It happens whether you are looking at the unfinished business or just thinking about it.

It siphons off energy that could be used in a much more positive way. “These items on your mental ‘to do’ list, the ones you’ve been procrastinating about, distract you or make you feel guilty and drain the very energy you need to accomplish your goals.” (So says Cheryl Richardson in Take Time for Your Life.)

NOT an Excuse to Procrastinate

Taking care of the unfinished business that nags at your mind–and keeps you from feeling like you can settle down to write–may be necessary before you can tackle your writing assignment. Don’t go overboard though, or you’re just procrastinating. Washing the dirty dishes is one thing–taking time to replace the shelf paper in your pantry is something else.

Figure out the things that you MUST have done to feel at peace in your environment, and do ONLY those things. (I do as many of them as I can the night before too.)

Eliminate the chaos in your environment, and you’ll eliminate a LOT of the chaos that blocks your writer’s mind. Now…off to clean my office–and then get to the writing.

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10 Responses to Drains in Disguise

  1. Linda says:

    Hi Kristi,

    I too have this problem. I found a website a few years back that I really like. http://www.flylady.net. She breaks things down into managable 15 minute tasks and helps people overcome choas around the house. I think not having strong routines in the first place is part of the problem. In order to flow through our days and make writing a priority, we need habits that really work.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Linda, thanks for the link! I will check it out. Yes, contrary to popular opinion, having strong routines gives us a lot of freedom–it isn’t restricting.

  2. Vijaya says:

    I have never been a morning writer despite the advice that serious writers put their writing first. I feel good when my family has been taken care of, and then I am free to daydream and write. Alas, it’s all too easy to procrastinate when you work from home. There’s always something that needs attending to …

    • kwpadmin says:

      Vijaya, there is the eternal dilemma! It’s such a fine line between “getting ready to write” and “procrastinating.” Such an individual thing!

  3. And if you really, truly don’t have time to declutter, just take your laptop and go to the library or coffee shop. Leave the clutter behind.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Jane, that is truly an inspired idea! I’m going to steal it. The clutter will always be there when you get home!

  4. Michele says:

    Thanks so much for your good post, as always! In addition to dealing with tyranny of the undone, I’m one of those depressed writers. I actually set a timer for the 15-minute cleanup. I also set small daily goals: one hard thing, two or three easy things. The hard thing might be calling an insurance company, dealing with a stack of paper, or organizing a closet. On a difficult day, it might be folding the laundry. I don’t have to do the tasks first thing, just knowing I’m going to do them can free up my mind to write.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Michele, you have an excellent system going there! It reminds me of the Mini Habits book, which I have found so helpful. I applaud you for your goal setting of one hard thing along with the other easier things. I find it interesting that if you know those things are on your list, they don’t bother you as much and you can write. :-)

  5. Stephanie Ascough says:

    Another excellent post! I’m not one to (ever) deep-clean my house, but I sure can function better as a writer and in my other roles when I have taken small steps to neaten my environment. I even wrote out a basic weekly cleaning list. (Mopping doesn’t even make that list, ha.) When I don’t follow it for a few weeks, I just jump back into whatever task is set for that day of the week and go from there. My speed:)

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