Sunday, May 29, 2011


"Three Rules of Work: 
Out of clutter find simplicity; 
From discord find harmony; 
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." 
Albert Einstein (German theoretical physicist)
I’ve always been suspect of a person who has nothing on their desk. I remember sitting with an operations manager whose desk had a phone and desk blotter, nothing else, nada.

Not my desk. I have a blotter but that’s where the similarity ends. Being an empty nester, I waited about a year before I commandeered my daughter’s room, cleared out the last remains of her childhood, and made the room my own. It was fun to decorate just to please me. My design was simple, books. I surrounded myself with them, floor to ceiling. I did put in some necessities, a corner desk for the computer, printer, and a phone. I decided on a large library table, sitting catty corner, would be my work area. It seemed fitting with all the research and resource books I usually had stacked or scattered about.

My desk is usually covered with a small stack (or two or three) of paper/files for my different projects, research books (the ones I’m reading for pleasure are in a pile next to the sofa), a lamp (I hate using the overhead), pictures of the family, my favorite picture from the mound at Warwick Castle (for inspiration), and a bud vase with some tired lavender one of the kids brought back from a class trip (I did mention I’m an empty nester, a sentimental one). Then there’s the odd stuff that seems to magically appear, a news article my husband has left for me to read, a stress ball in the shape of a heart and my gold star paper weight for my first sale. It’s really a comfortable room.

I put things on the desk and eventually take the time to sift through it and put things in their proper place whether that’s filing, rearranging, or tossing it out all together.

I used to have a ‘clean as you go’ theory. Clean of edits that is. Whenever I picked up my writing I would read the story from the beginning, no matter how far along I was. I’d look for the weak words, put in the five senses, etc. I always found something to edit. One day I laughed out loud. I had over 125 pages written, if I started from the beginning each time I’d spend more time reading than writing. Geez, I’d never finish the story.  

Now I use my cluttered desk theory. Put it all down, then tackle the edits and rewrite.  I’m organized, to a point, but find myself putting the story down to get it written not really worrying about overused/weak words or verbs, using the five senses, tightening up sentences, making certain all the hooks are in place, reviewing and editing the Point-Of-View, combing through for show vs. tell, well the list goes on.

In essence, I’ve de-cluttered my desk as well as my writing. What does your desk look like? 


  1. I can definitely relate to this, Ruth. For some reason; however, I seem to have less clutter at the job than I do in my home office. Papers are everywhere, but it's organized clutter. I keep projects in separate piles as best as I can, using file folders, sticky notes, and nearby book shelves to help organize things.
    Clutter in the writing is a different matter. Since I tend to be a pantser, I throw it all down on paper and then go back to cut the clutter. Thank you for the words of wisdom.I especially enjoyed your comments on nostalgic items. Those are hard to get rid of, I think, because they're so much a part of us.

  2. @Cathy G.

    Hi Cathy,

    I tend to be more organized at the office. It's at home where it gets out of control.

    I too am a panzer, however, when I started writing I felt it had to be perfect as I went along. Now I try to get it all down before going back. Unless my characters take a spin of their own and I have to go back and write something in. I really love when that happens.

    I so glad you like my nostalgia. I'm a real romantic at heart.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. There's a dreamcatcher I bought from an Indian vendor on my last Harley trip to Sturgis, hanging off the lamp to the side of my desk. I like to believe it holds my ideas until I can get them sketched out. I'm very nostalgic, and unusual trinkets or good luck charms dot the open spaces of my book shelf. My desk is cluttered, in a weird organized way, like me. I can't create in sterile conditions. It's like my mind has been put away, out of sight. Thanks Ruth!

  4. Your story sounds so familiar. I have piles too relating to different projects I'm working on. Seems like there is never enough hours in my day to get to the piles of paperwork that are on my dresser, nightstands and desk. I also have a bucket under my desk with folders of projects too.

    I do plan on organizing my paper work. I have no room for my character cards and plot scenes any more.

    So in answer to your question: My desk and surrounding furniture tops are out of control with paperwork.

    Great article Ruth!


  5. Great blog. I'm in the act of cleaning out my mess. It feels great to have order and it clears my mind.
    It's a bear getting there.
    I feel like the picture.
    Idea for a new zombie novel, writer buried alive comes back and stars as the hero of all the unfinished manuscripts.


  6. I have a never-ending pile of papers on my desk, consisting of articles torn out of trade journals, newsletters, Internet tips, promo advice, printouts of informative blogs, etc. As I slowly process this stack, more papers end up replacing those tossed. I think this pile will still be here ten years from now.

  7. @J. Coleman

    Dreamcatcher! How inspirational. I've considered my clutter organized chaos or creative clutter. Either way I find I need some sense of organization to anchor me.

    Thanks for stopping by. I enjoy your comments.

  8. @ Karen

    I know the feeling. My desk, my low file cabinet, the bookshelves, the floor, even the top of the printer all stacks of papers. I keep threatening to get some pretty bins but that's a task for another day.

    Thanks for taking time to leave a comment

  9. @Sandy L Rowland

    I agree with you. It does feel good to get organized. The sad part is I have to do it over and over again.

    Good luck with the zombie idea! Thanks for stopping by.

  10. @Nancy J. Cohen

    Nancy, I know how you feel. I find great things when I go through the pile. I usually get side tracked and wind up spending more time then I originally planned. It seems to be a never ending battle. I'm so afraid I'll miss something important.

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

  11. There's a desk under this mess? Really???

    I have jotted notes of every shape and size, from receipts to notebooks and everything in between- everywhere! But I can usually find what I need/want-- as long as hubby doesn't come in to do check book. I'm learning to write first-edit later finally. My first draft may be 40K or 90K, but at least it's a completed first draft. That I can work with.

  12. I think there is something great happening... Everyone I talk to is in the de-cluttering mode. Whether it's household stuff or paperwork, getting through it definitely helps clear the mind.

    My desk has designated "areas" of projects, ideas, and to-do lists, that may appear to be random papers, but are actually organized piles! If I filed the info, I'd forget about it, so each pile changes according to deadlines, necessity, my energy level. I avoid letting any one pile go unattended for too long, but I don't obsess over any of it either... It all gets done eventually.

  13. @Calisa Rhose

    Isn't that the hardest thing to do ... write first and edit afterwards? I know I keep struggling with that.

    As an empty nester Paul has taken over one of the other rooms as his office. He is a creative clutter person. The entire family, nieces and nephews et al, tease him that their going to do an intervention!

    I hope the bills get paid but that your notes stay in tact.

    Thanks for the smile and for stopping by.

    ... Ruth

  14. @Luci Weston

    Hi Luci -

    Maybe it's spring cleaning after all the winter days in doors. I used to be the most organized person ever but seem to have lost my way.

    I know you're organized. I admire your diligence and your encouragement.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  15. I just cleaned my home office this past weekend. I don't write there, in my office, but everything important ends up there eventually. I like containers and I mean storage containers. Anything currently being worked on is on my laptop. Even research. Articles, physical copies of important things all go into a container.

    When it comes to writing, I'm definitely a 'get it down first and edit later'. Anytime I start to bog down over a scene, I stop myself from stressing over it. I put the words down in blunt terms and pretty it up later.

  16. @Christina Wolfer

    Hi -

    I envy your organization. I keep trying though.

    I'm learning to get it all down on paper and edit later but I keep getting stuck at the beginning. I feel compelled to get it perfect before moving on although the subsequent scenes keep playing out in my head. They are eager to be written. I just have to move on.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

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