This week, I read an article by Walter Mosley, “Writing Every Day,” which is an excerpt from his book, This Year You Write Your Novel. In it, he says if you want to write a book, make a schedule and stick to it, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. It’s that simple, and that difficult. For example, this morning my daughter had an honor-roll breakfast at her school, so instead of starting my work day at 8:00, it’s already 10:30. Mosley also says journaling is not writing (i.e. blogging is not writing), neither is mowing the lawn or putting patches on your jeans. If you want to write a book, the only writing time that counts is time spent on the book. It’s a hard line to follow, but necessary, which is why writers are always asking each other where and when they write. In fact, we spent class time discussing that last night.

I think the virtues of a schedule are obvious. If you don’t, check out the Mosley article, for one among many. The where, however, is just as important.

In a Midmorning interview on MPR some time ago, Gary Shteyngart said “create a poverty of distractions.” I wrote that down and stuck it on the wall over my desk. It’s brilliant. I have gotten good about unplugging my modem when I sit down to work at the computer, and ignoring my phone in general. My desk is another matter.

I don’t have an office, I have a desk in a corner that I made with a fabric-covered board and two filing cabinets. My computer sits on these wood frames that used to sit under the filing cabinets to raise the whole desk, but now raise my monitor to eye level. That’s all fine. The wood frames are ugly, but very functional. It’s the books and papers that are a problem. Really.

I make piles. The stuff on the bottom is obsolete, long obsolete. The topmost two or three layers are stuff I’m working with now. And then there are the zones I have given up on. I don’t even know what those papers are and I’m afraid to look. Seriously. I’m looking at a day or two of solid sorting and organizing if I want to clean up this work area–which I do. Want to. But who has the time? There is writing to be done, and didn’t Mosley warn me about “chores that have gone undone for months but all of a sudden seem urgent?” He did. And I certainly don’t want to put off a productive day of writing for cleaning.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I keep on top of the dishes, laundry, vacuuming, etc. I’m not a messy person. I’m a piler.

Eventually, my piles leap from the desk in a bid for freedom and spread to the floor around my desk, spawning little baby piles. I have become adept at avoiding the baby piles on the floor so I don’t trip and crack a tooth on the printer cart. Really.

I am also good at selective focus–it’s a survival strategy at this point. I can mostly ignore the clutter around my desk (not to mention the clutter around my couch where I read and write longhand). I can make just enough room to prop up whatever draft or research I’m working with, clear off my keyboard, and accomplish a lot.

Ah, but there’s always a flip side, isn’t there?

Is a messy desk the sign of a creative mind, or a disorganized mind? Should we believe the feng shui guides and find a place for everything, unceremoniously tossing anything we haven’t used (or seen) in the last six months? Or are these piles an archive of the creative process?

I really can accomplish a lot. So, tell me, should I take the time away from writing my books to clean up my desk? (What would Mosley do?) Post a comment and let me know what you think and how you work. Go ahead, tell me what your workspace looks like!

This is my work space--to clean or not to clean?

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