The calendar may read April but the weather outside my window says winter. Nonetheless, at this time of year, my thoughts often turn to spring cleaning. I notice the layers of dust everywhere (my place is a dust magnet), the piles of papers, the books scattered about, the dust bunnies and cob webs, reminding me it’s time for a deep cleaning. Needless to say, housekeeping has never been my strong point. So while I recognize that spring cleaning is a common rite of spring, it’s also one I dread.
Beyond the housework though, there are other areas that may need spring cleaning, such as my writing practice. Like many writers, I can get lost in my own head to the point I forget about my writing environment. It’s easy to get so caught up in everyday work that I forget that my writing practice might need some sprucing up too.
There are numerous half-finished projects sitting in my file drawers and notes from completed freelance assignments. Not to mention the backlog of emails and texts that have piled up in my archives, and the miscellaneous notes and newspaper clippings I’ve collected over the years, believing that they might come in handy for an essay I hoped to write one day.
Spring cleaning is a tough task, but a necessary one if you want to feel more productive. The good news is you don’t have to do the spring cleaning all at one sitting. Take an hour a day over the course of a week or two, and you’ll get through each one. By the end, you’ll likely feel lighter and freer than before. By clearing away the deadwood and clutter of unfinished manuscripts and story ideas, you can make room for fresh, new ones.
Here’s my to-do list for spring cleaning a writing routine. You may have a few different tasks than what I’ve listed below.
1. Review and reassess story notes. This is a biggie, which is why I’ve listed it first. This can also take the longest time because it can be tempting to lose yourself in story lines from the past, just like going through old photos can bring up memories.
If you’re like me, you’ve created a notebook of miscellaneous notes for each story idea, which means I may have ten or twelve notebooks sitting on my shelf, taking up valuable space and collecting dust. There’s no guarantee that I will ever get around to writing these stories. It may be time to unload some of those stories, especially the ones that are too vague. If you’re reluctant to let go of the idea, but want to lose the notebook, I suggest making a spreadsheet for each story idea. A spreadsheet will help you organize your ideas and streamline your writing activities, while making room on your shelf.
If you use notebooks to handwrite drafts of your stories, and you’ve already typed the up, it’s time to lose the notebooks. Dump them since you likely won’t review them anymore.
2. Go through old emails and text messages. If you have long chains of emails and text messages unrelated to one another that go back several years, take time to delete them. They’re taking up valuable space on your computer and phone. But you might ask, “What if I need to go back to them later for some reason?” If you haven’t gone back to them by now, then you probably won’t need to in the future. Besides, it feels cleaner to get rid of them. Remember to clear out the messages you’ve sent too, not just the ones you’ve received. Those sent messages can pile up in a hurry.
3. Reassess your social media. When was the last time you assessed your social media needs? How often do you use them, and for what purpose? If you use Twitter to learn about freelance assignments, by all means, keep it. But if you’re never on that platform, or worse, you spend countless hours on it when you could be writing, then it might be time to let it go.
4. Reassess your writing tools and equipment. Do you still use a desktop computer from ten years ago? It might work fine for you now, but like anything that ages, it’s likely slower with time. Which doesn’t help your writing practice. It’s time to find another home for that desktop if it’s still in good, working condition and upgrade to a newer, faster version or transfer to a more portable laptop. Ditto with printers. Today’s versions can spew out more pages in a shorter period of time. If you do decide to upgrade, think about what your writing needs maybe in the future as well as today.
5. Reevaluate your book collection. Do you have books about writing or freelancing still sitting on the shelf that you read a long time ago, or worse, not at all? Then it’s time to go through them to decide if they should go or stay. If you haven’t read a book and it’s been sitting on your shelf for three years, it may be time to donate it to someone who might appreciate it.
6. Spruce up your writing environment. Does your designated writing space still inspire you? Or do you avoid working there because you’re not comfortable there? Think about the chair you use, the desk, the lighting. If any of these items aren’t helping you feel more productive, It might be time to replace them.
Try to keep your space clean at all times. There’s nothing more uninspiring to a writer than a cluttered work environment. Add an inspirational poster on the wall and a live plant to be close to nature. Little things can inspire you to write every day.
7. Review your calendar. Are you so busy with non-essential activities that you can’t find time to write? If you feel overcommitted, it’s time to reconsider your priorities. If writing is important to you, you need to make room for it in your life. Don’t be afraid to say no to invitations and obligations if they will interfere with your writing practice.
Conversely, is your calendar fairly empty? Not having many outside interests can be as damaging to your writing practice as having too many. Work-life balance means different things to different people. You’ll need to assess what balance means to you and how you will achieve it.
There’s a lot more to spring cleaning your writing practice than just dusting off your shelves. Imagine how good it will feel when you’ve cleared the clutter from your writing life.
What tips do you have for spring cleaning your writing practice?