Three Ways Writing is like Cleaning House
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Throughout our lives from childhood to adulthood, we are taught that cleanliness is next to godliness. While some of you found yourself dusting shelves as a child instead of watching cartoons on a Saturday morning, others of you could be found sweating it out pushing a lawn mower in the front yard as a teenager instead of driving to see the new movie with your friends.
I was one of those kids. And, I'm also one of those adults. The thought that often pops up as I grudgingly scour my kids' tub some Saturday mornings is “Why do I do this knowing that at the end of the day it’ll be dirty again?”
And, maybe like me, there are just a few of you who have also wondered, whether out loud or to your imaginary friend, what’s the point of all the cleaning?
Don't get me wrong, I like the fresh scent after I've cleaned a bathroom or the lines in the carpet after vacuuming the living room, but when you think about it, it's a long list to be done. From scouring the tub and dusting the shelves to vacuuming the carpets and mopping the kitchen floor to washing the laundry…oh, the laundry!
I often struggle with the whole "everything in order and everything in its place" mantra, when you’re blessed to have five minutes to admire your sparkly, smelling-good hard work before a husband, child, or pet uses the restroom, tracks in mud, or leaves a dirty dish in the sink.
The truth is we clean for different reasons. Guests coming over, smells emanating from the trash can, dust bunnies taking over every corner of a room, no clean clothes to wear, or wanting to soak in a warm, clean bathtub are all good reasons.
But, especially for us writers, I believe our desire to clean has the same strong characteristics as our desire to write. In fact, I’d say that they both have a foothold in three specific areas of our lives.
1. Our desire to have things in order.
Let me say for the record, I am a proud, first born, Type A personality, and it goes against my very being to not to have things in order, including in my writing. And, just like when I was twelve and directed to dust the mantle, the tables, and the bookshelves, I find it has a similar feel to plotting out a novel’s characters, setting, and conflict.
2. Our innate need to have some control in our lives.
How much, how often, or how long we clean is all within our control. We can designate ten minutes every morning or dedicate an entire Saturday to it. Either way, we are the masters of our clean or not clean destinies. Quite frankly, as frustrating and time consuming as writing a book can be, authors are the directors of their time, whether spent on researching, plotting, or just typing out dialogue between two characters. Whether it's ten minutes or ten hours, writers have control.
3. We have a constant craving for what feels fresh and new.
It’s cliché, but it’s true. We get bored with the old and long for the new: a new house, new shoes, new phone, new experience.
For instance, when we first move into a new house, we are excited by all the possibilities: the way we can decorate ... the placement of the wall hangings ...the fresh flowers in the yard. It’s perfection! But after a while, we start focusing not the broken door handle, the not-quite-sealed windows, or the yard with weeds. Then, instead of cleaning it up and being satisfied, we're back to the wanting a different house, a better house again.
We do this as authors as well. We have a great idea; we start writing about it, and even bravely share it with others in a critique group or over dinner with a best friend. We create a great title, we sketch illustrations, and we dream of taking a selfie with the finished product in a local bookstore. We are so excited about the possibilities. Until we hear about 12 other people writing something similar, read about a new trend in our chosen genre, or attend a writing conference and hear that our pitch isn’t quite right. Then, without fail, we shed a few angry tears, want to delete it all or shove it in a dark drawer, and debate whether to start all over with the newer, trendier idea, the fresher blog post, or the much-hyped writing guru’s new book.
Whether you choose to self-publish, utilize a hybrid publisher, or go the traditional route, writing, just like cleaning, is hard work. You have to spend time on it in order to have a final product that is fresh and sparkles. It’s okay to want to quit sometimes or wonder why in the world you're doing this when tomorrow it might just look like a mess.
The thing to remember is that if you feel you are called to write, whether it’s a picture book, novel, magazine article, or blog, then your calling is not for nothing. It does matter and will make a difference in the life of a reader. Whatever you are writing was given to you for a purpose, and those that it reaches will be changed forever.
Trust in the One who gave you the ability to do the hard work. Clean it up and make the time!