Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Clean House is One in Which No Writing is Being Done (Unless You Have A Maid, But That’s Cheating)

by Mindy McGinnis

I’ve got to admit that I’m often torn between the demands of real life, and the demands of the fake people who live in my head.  Sure, there are certain responsibilities that must be attended to—cats don’t feed themselves, dog vomit doesn’t magically disappear—but is it imperative that my dresser be dusted off?  Who sees it anyway?  Me.  And do I care?

Technically, no.  I don’t.  Most of the dust in my bedroom is comprised of my own dead skin cells anyway, right?  So why do I care if part of me now resides on top of my dresser?  It makes its own kind of sense, really.  But—even practical me gets a dragging sense of inadequacy when I see that layer of dust.  I’ve failed as a housekeeper.

Then the flip side asks me—what if I fail as a writer?  What if the fake people in my head die and I walk around smelling bad because of it?  OK that last bit isn’t going to happen, but cutting off the circulation to my imagination will in fact kill my characters, and nothing cuts off the blood flow to the brain like housework.

And hey fellas—this applies across the board.  I know plenty of awesome dudes and single fathers who work their butts off, so don’t think that this is a female-centric philosophy. 

I was recently reading the excellent book Women Who Run With the Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and came upon this excellent quote:

“I've seen women work long, long hours at jobs they despise in order to buy very expensive items for their houses, mates, or children, and putting their considerable talents on the back burner. I've seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write... and you know, it's a funny thing about house cleaning... it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow overresponsibility (or overrespectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, rifts, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she "should" be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”

Think on that for a bit, the last sentence particularly.  It resonated with me, and I’m betting it will with you, too.

20 comments:

Samantha Sotto-Yambao said...

It is scientifically proven that the amount of dust on the floor is directly proportional to words on the page :)

Calista Taylor said...

I have little problem ignoring the housework so I can write, write, write. lol. With that said, I do feel like my brain is more focused and relaxed if the house has had a bit of a going over and isn't looking chaotic.

Darke Conteur said...

I have dust bunnies and plot bunnies hanging out together, but, I find the best way for me to work something out for a story--is to do dishes.

Go figure.

petemorin said...

I'd dust my desk.

If I could find it.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Luckily I tend to do everything in massive spurts - write, clean, bathe. Well, not so much the last one. But anyway, when one thing is going well, you can bet it's cause I let everything else go.

Josh Hoyt said...

I don't have a problem with ignoring the housework to write it's just that everything else gets in the way :)

Richard said...

If it wasn't for my wife, I'd never leave my world of writing. But she puts her foot down and I complainingly obey. I have to admit, when I see things clean, I like it. But I'd rather be writing than cleaning.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Josh - yeah real life often has that sucky demanding quality to it. Being responsible is a good thing, but it also...well... sucks.

Richard - Those exact responsibilities are the only things keeping me from setting in an anti social corner, making up conversations between pretend people.

Really, when you sit down and talk about the things we do, we sound quite looney.

Rachel said...

I like that last line too, but I get all sorts of ideas while I'm cleaning house. Especially when I'm vacuuming. I guess the noise drowns everything else out. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

I struggle with this. There's so much to do in the real world, it's sometimes hard to 'squeeze in' the writing. I'm trying to make it more of a priority, but it is tough sometimes! :)

Michael Di Gesu said...

You are SO right. But I am an INSANE clean freak. I seriously can't function if my condo isn't perfect. I am staying at a friend's who is out of town for a few months. The moment she left I tore the place apart. I couldn't stand it.... I scrubbed everything for three full days. Now I can write. I know I'm nuts, but that's how I am.

Even the front yard got some tlc. Funny, I just had the neighbors pop by and asked how my herbs and tomatoes are growing so beautifully in pots.

Cheeky me says, I just water them. They were floored. Well it's try. I happen to have a green thumb. All plants and animals like me. People.... most of the time.

Leslie Rose said...

I know if I see cat hair tumbleweeds rolling across the floor that I'm having a good writing week. As long as the Board of Health isn't knocking at my door, I can keep the housework at bay.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Rachel - can't argue with that! If your muse is the vacuum you are doubly blessed!

Michael - we're all a little mad. I'm working on a little mad +1 :)

Leslie - I can so relate on the tumbleweeds. I love to watch them get sucked up in the vacuum. It's so... cathartic.

Matt Sinclair said...

As someone trying to create art in stolen moments, I agree that it's not the best way. Obstructions need not be dust bunnies and dirty dishes. Life has a wide array of speed bumps. When I have a chance, I'll look for a bumper sticker that says "I'd rather be writing."

Mindy McGinnis said...

I'll look for one that says, "I'd rather be daydreaming - oh WAIT!" and has skid marks :)

Becca Campbell said...

Thanks for your words of encouragement. I'm constantly fighting the battle between home obligations and heeding my creative side. While I'm not going to let my husband and children go by the wayside, house chores are a totally different matter!

Thanks for the reminder of what is really most important. And the permission to let a few lesser things slide.

janflora said...

I love this post! *Hugs* to you for writing it. I feel so much better now. Being raised by someone who put the house and appearances, etc. above everything else, I struggle with guilt while sitting at the computer in my own cluttered home. I try to make deals with myself: Load the dishwasher, then write; Write for 20 mins while dinner bakes. But it is hard to get started and harder to stop. And of course, the kids need food and baths and constant attention. I think they are getting used to it as I make writing a priority, making sure I call it work. The neighbor kids who come through may think I'm crazy, but mine seem healthy :) I need to dig out my copy of Women/Wolves. It was such a great contribution to our culture!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Becca / Jan - absolutely! I know men have a different set of responsibilities on their shoulders, but as women, we get those visible kicks-in-the-shin; Did you SEE the cobweb in her living room? UGH! Well, F the cobweb. At Halloween it'll be considered decorative. And I intend to leave it there until then.

If this post made you feel good, I've got a follow up over my personal blog:http://writerwriterpantsonfire.blogspot.com/2011/04/on-looking-good-writing-well.html

Thanks for commenting!

Jennifer Merritt said...

I go to the diner to write. I don't have to clean anything and the lady calls me honey and brings me coffee. I think I'm going to scrawl "Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only." in lipstick on my mirror. Great post Mindy!

Mindy McGinnis said...

It's a great line, isn't it? The entire book is peppered with great quote-ables.