When I started writing ten years ago, I didn’t understand that by doing so I would be giving up some of my personal privacy. It’s not that I’ve become so famous that I can’t leave my house without being stalked by paparazzi – hardly the case. It’s that, as an author, I can’t help but put more of myself into my characters and stories than I’m consciously aware of or intend. This truth came home to me when, after reading my first novel (The Darcys of Pembereley) my mother-in-law (who had known me for over 30 years) remarked, “I learned a lot about you by reading your book.” Hmm.
I must admit that what she said made me a little uneasy. What had I written that was so revealing? Was she, rightly or wrongly, assuming some of Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship closely reflected my own marriage to her son? Awkward.
Since that time, though, I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that my life is an open book (bad pun intended). And because there’s no point in trying to keep secrets any longer, I might as well confess to you what my mother-in-law has known from the beginning. I am a terrible housekeeper. It’s true. In my heart, I desire and appreciate orderliness, but in real life, I rarely achieve it. Oh, sure, I manage to get the dishes washed, keep up with the laundry, and avoid any major health code violations. It’s the ubiquitous clutter; that’s my major downfall.
My sewing/craft/art/writing studio is the prime example (see certifiably unstaged, unretouched photos).
This used to be my oldest son’s bedroom, which I staked claim to the minute he moved out. Although it’s supposed to be available as a guest room (technically there is a futon somewhere underneath the debris), in actuality, this one little room is ALL MINE. Not too much to ask, is it? – especially considering that my husband has a gigantic shop for all his manly hobbies and big boy toys!
So this is my work/play room, which has to accommodate (and house supplies for) all my various artsy-crafty activities. I’ve been sewing since I was a kid (thus a sewing machine, serger, fabric stash, thread array, trims, and accessories). As an adult, I started making and selling beaded jewelry (stash of beads, tools, display case, etc). Later, I followed in my mother’s footsteps and began painting seriously (paper, canvases, collage materials, various kinds of paint, brushes, framing supplies, and finished artwork). Then there were my more minor forays into the world of crochet, stamping, and stained glass work (more assorted supplies). And, of course, each of these interests has its accompanying collection of books and reference materials. Plus I keep gift boxes and wrapping paper in this room.
That’s quite a list. No wonder my all-purpose studio is bursting at the seams! I probably should get rid of some of this stuff, since it all has to take a back seat to my writing these days. But then again, you never know when you’re going to need a glue gun, a scrap of gold ribbon, or a peacock feather. I used all three a couple of days ago, as a matter of fact, trimming a new bonnet!
“I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better… There were two or three much uglier in the shop; and when I have bought some prettier-coloured satin to trim it with fresh, I think it will be very tolerable.” (Lydia, Pride and Prejudice, chapter 39)
This space (at right) – my carefully laid out writing desk – is the heart of the operation. You’ll see that my old dependable (and sometimes excruciatingly slow) laptop computer is front and center, propped up on a 2×2″ board to improve the angle. It is flanked by my indispensable Encarta Webster’s Dictionary, Second Edition, on the left and my trusty thesaurus on the right (conveniently tucked into the drawer along with a tray of sewing thread). I also keep some JA and Regency reference books as well as important creature comforts (phone, glass of water, Kleenex, selection of chewing gum so that I won’t snack, dental floss in case I fail at previous resolution) within easy reach.
The goal is that when I sit down at my desk, I’ll have everything I need to be most productive. It must be working, since I’ve managed to write four novels here so far. When my head is into the story, I forget all about the clutter. And if I need inspiration, I can always look out my window, where the view is much more tranquil.
As for the clutter itself, I am fond of saying, “creative spaces are messy places.” That explanation might pass with the non-artistic sort, those who have no better authority to go by. I worry, however, that some of my fellow creative types will say it isn’t so. I know many who are in my camp, but there are probably others who have spotless homes and clutter-free work spaces. And what about Jane Austen? Well, she had no room at all for clutter on her tiny writing table!
So where does that leave me? Now that you know my dirty little secret, what’s your verdict? Can you relate to my affliction, or are you a perpetual neatnick? Any suggestions for how to rescue me from the shameful curse of clutter? Should I even try? What do you think?