The benefits of having a clean desk

I will be honest with you. My desk is not clean. It wasn’t clean last week, or last month or last year. As a matter of fact, I think it’s fair to say that my desk is kept in a constant state of unkempt glory. I make no apologies for this absolutely true detail of my working life. I also take no pride in it. It is merely a fact. Take it or leave it.I must admit however that I enjoy the surprises I get when I attempt to reorganize the clutter that clings so precariously to my desktop. That goes double for the explosion of papers spilling from my file cabinet.

This isn’t a task I take on with any joy or regularity. But when I do, I am constantly surprised by the cast-offs and unfinished work I find laying there, forgotten, unedited, unpublished. My most recent foray into the lost art of cleaning happened just this past weekend, as I completed a move of my office from an unused bedroom in the house to a new addition my wife and I have recently completed.

Hidden in the piles of receipts kept for no apparent reason, school records that have long since become unimportant and financial records that I really need to keep a handle on, I found stories. Lots of stories actually. Most were copies of published work, saved in the format the editor first saw. A few were outlines of ideas that went either went nowhere, or worse, somewhere I didn’t care to go. But a few were gems. In rough form, certainly. But gems nonetheless. Perfectly good story ideas that have been patiently waiting for me to rediscover them at some undetermined day in the future.

That day was yesterday. The work to resurrect them starts tomorrow.
It’s for this reason that I write virtually all my story ideas down with a fair level of specificity. I may forget my phone number, or my anniversary, or even the exact age of my children (although in my defense, that hasn’t actually happened yet) but I never lose a story idea. Not completely anyhow. I’ve got a storehouse full of them scattered across my desk, under a book I stopped reading a few months ago and in my now somewhat lighter filing cabinet – freshly relieved of a good ten pounds worth of unnecessary paperwork. All of which may point to a sloppy work ethic that allows me to build up a disturbingly large collection of scrap paper that’s only cleared away under the most unusual circumstances. Or it may be my insurance against writers block. Having reams of stray ideas laying all over the desktop does tend to keep me from taking a day off with the excuse that I’m blocked and can’t think of a thing to write.

It does keep me from cleaning, however. It’s too hard to separate the wheat from the chaff on the average day. So it stays, accumulating for months, even years at a time. Until the day comes when I rediscover an idea that I’d previously cast off. With enough care and polish, some of those ideas find life when viewed from a new perspective.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself today. My desk is at least a bit more tidy than it was at this time last week. I make no promises for the future, however. None except that I will continue to have ideas, sketch them out and collect them for future consideration.
Who knows where today’s stray thought may lead?

Jamie Beckett –
Author – Burritos and Gasoline

1 Comment

Filed under The Writing Life, Writing

One response to “The benefits of having a clean desk

  1. I know exactly what you mean, the same thing happens to me from time to time. I realized that the disorder relates exactly to what’s going on in my life as well. I was pretty organized until about 7 months ago when my life started to take a drastic change from the norm. The mess doesn’t let me be productive and before I know it there is another month without anything worth showing in print.

    I do have a lot of ideas written in computer files and I refer to those whenever I feel like writing but nothing is moving along these days, my emotions don’t let me work the way I should.

    Thanks for sharing your writing life.

    Clary Lopez

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