Monday, July 30, 2012

Ode to Messiness



This is me. I have a very slight memory of this day, though I couldn't have been more than two or three. My mother tells me we were making cabbage burgers at the time. I am not at all surprised that I was a messy baker back then because I am still a messy baker (and cook) today.

I have had to clean cookie dough off of walls because I let the beaters out of the bowl and dough goes flying everywhere. More than once, I've called one of the pets into the kitchen - either the cat or the dog - and told them to eat the food I dropped on the floor while cooking. Flour doesn't normally stay in the measuring cup, and neither does just about any other dry ingredient.

The garbage disposal in the sink has saved me from making even worse messes. Peeling vegetables is easier now that I can just throw the peels down the sink (though I think I still manage to get some on the floor in the process) and I just put an egg shell in the sink instead of leaving a trail of egg white on the counters in its trip to the trash can.

I must say, though, that despite my messiness, I manage to create some tasty meals and baked goods. Thanks to Pinterest, I've been trying a lot of new recipes and while some have turned out so-so, others have been a rousing success - especially this chocolate chip cookie recipe.

But I'm not just messy in the kitchen.

Ask my mother about the stacks of paperwork and books and stuff in my bedroom as a kid. Apparently she couldn't take it for very long stretches of time as I would sometimes come home from school to find it all organized. I loved that.

Contrary to what you might think, however, I keep a pretty darn clean house. My living room is very organized. Everything is in its place, and that's just the way I like it.

However, my office is another matter...

I blame my father for this one, as my mom would often try and clean his office. She gave up, though, when he couldn't find paperwork after she cleaned, and thereafter she had to grit her teeth and leave it in all its messy glory.

(As an aside, I am starting to think I owe my mother an apology for her cleaning so much...)

Yesterday I spent the entire day at home. We'd already bought groceries for the weekend, and as my daughter is finished with summer softball, we had no practice to go to. I was quite excited to write all day.

But the mess had accumulated in my office. Bills, stacks of paperwork, research, wayward notes, and piles of books had become too much. So I got to work. I organized, tossed stuff, filed paperwork, put books away, and made the place presentable again.

Every time I clean, I vow I won't let it get this way again. It does anyway.

There is probably a lesson in here somewhere, but I've failed to learn it so many times that I think I'm a lost cause.

However!

I have learned one thing about messiness in regards to my writing.

(Ah! you're thinking. She is going to tie this to writing!)

Yes. Yes I am.

My writing itself can be messy - words, phrases, descriptions, etc. - for the first draft.

But, the plot cannot.

The last novel I wrote began on a whim. I had the germ of an idea, so I sat down and began to write. I was blissfully unaware of what direction I was going and really didn't care. I would discover it as I went along. Unfortunately, what I discovered is that I am really good at making messes.

Granted, this was the first story I wrote where I didn't really have any sense of direction. Most of my other stories I've plotted out enough to know my beginning, middle, and end (though I still didn't have some very important elements worked out). But not this one.

Fixing that story cost me months of writing time. It was a huge, colossal mess. I resolved I wouldn't do this anymore with my novels, couldn't, in fact, if I wanted to make the best use of my time.

I realized that while I could be as messy as I wanted to with the pre-writing phase - and believe me, I tend to be all over the place in trying to figure everything out - I could not translate that messiness to the first draft. I needed certain things hammered out before I started. I implemented this new way of thinking for my next novel (thanks to this stellar book on plotting), and the actual writing process hasn't been nearly as messy this time around.

That is a good thing.

The moral of the story? Being messy in the kitchen is fine. It's even okay in the office for a short time.

But messiness in my plot? Nope. Can't do it. Does this make me a plotster vs a pantster? Probably. It's the method that works for me. I know it doesn't work for everyone, and that is the beauty of human nature.

I do find it fascinating, though, that I can be messy in some areas of my life - my office, my cooking, etc.- but not in others - my fastidious living room, the way I fold laundry, cups stacked just so in my cupboards, etc.

I am a study in contrasts.

And that's just the way I like it.

20 comments:

  1. Messiness! I'm a messy, my husband's a messy and so are the kids! And yet part of me carves order. So my desk gets lots of attention. Does it get messy? You bet. But I love tidying it and making it pristine before I sit down to write.
    And as you've just read in my last blog post, I'm definitely a pantster when it comes to writing. I pretend I'm a plotter and make all these plans, but then I sit at the computer and it all changes! It makes for lots of fun. :)

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    1. I love how we can be messy in one area of our lives but not another! My husband can't stand messes - he's very neat and tidy. So it's a good thing my office is upstairs so he doesn't have to see it every day!

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  2. This is such a great post. I'm like you, though I do find I'm 'messy' in most areas of my life. Though it's an organized mess ;) ;)

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    1. I love the term "organized mess." That is me, too!

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  3. As a child, I was very messy. I would shove everything under my bed or in my closet. It used to take me an entire weekend to clean my room. Now, however, I'm completely different. My closets are perfect. My clothes are lined up by season, sleeve/pant length and color. I like my labels facing forward in the cabinets or fridge. It's verging on OCC. But my notes and research still resembles that scatter-brain child of my youth. They are half-heartedly thrown in piles and into random “research” folders and containers. A psychologist would probably weave me a tale of “Yin verses Yang,” but, then again, there was a reason I did not study psychology.

    Talking about Pinterest and recipes, I got an AMAZING cookie recipe off there a few weeks ago. It’s for a Brown Sugar and Blueberry cookie and I swear they taste just like blueberry muffins! Everyone LOVED them and they were very easy to make! Here is the link to the recipe if you want it: http://www.howsweeteats.com/2011/06/brown-sugar-blueberry-cookies/

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    1. Wow. That is so fascinating that you did such a complete turnaround on your clothing. And I have SO many notes for my research/writing projects...I wish I were more organized on that front because I think I'm forgetting a lot of great stuff.

      Will look at that recipe as I love blueberry muffins!

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  4. I'm messy, too. For me, it's the dishes in the sink or piles of clothes. My first draft always needs cleaning up as well, for that matter :-)

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    1. Before we had a dishwasher, I would let dishes accumulate in the sink. Thank goodness I can now stash them out of sight! LOL

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  5. I have a very similar messy/organised contrast in my own life. Any creative areas are always quite disorganised. I always tell myself that if I had a whole room to devote to sewing/scrapbooking/writing/art that the rest of my house would be spotless. :)

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    1. It's funny - I try to keep all of my creative stuff (mixed media supplies, books, writing things) in my upstairs office - it's a huge room (Cape Cod-style house) so I have plenty of room for everything. But then I tend to use it as a "dumping" ground, too, and thus the need to purge about once a month.

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  6. I am a study in contrasts too. I used to be a total slob, but I reformed as I grew up and had my first apartment. Still, I do let messiness creep in from time to time, and I too clean up and vow never to let it get so bad again...

    I'm going to buy that book you recommended. I actually have an idea for my first real novel, and no idea how to go about writing it. But first though, I need to make those chocolate chip cookies:)

    Hugs, my dear!

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    1. OH yes! Make those chocolate chip cookies! They are divine! I hope that book works for you - it was the first one on plotting that really made sense to me where others didn't.

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  7. As others before me have said, I'm messy in my creative spaces. My desk and my "clutter corner" in the TV room (where I do my sewing and knitting and cross stitch) are my appointed slobsloughs. The problem is that to me it is an organised mess and to outsiders it' s just a "mess" mess. That means said outsider--to whom I have been otherwise happily married for 21 years--dumps random things there because it's The Mess. Sigh.

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    1. Hahaha! It's amazing what our significant others do to put up with us - and us with them, of course! I hate to say it, but I have had my husband clean up my messes, too. He can only stand it for so long!

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  8. No matter how messy you are in the kitchen (and you CANT be worse than my husband, but darn he's a good cook), you still have to stick to the structure of the recipe right? That's why it's such a great analogy with writing!

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    1. Ah! Perfect analogy, Margo! My hubby's a good cook, too, but he doesn't do baking...unless it's banana bread! Come to think of it, though, he's not nearly as messy at me. LOL

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  9. I'm very like you, Melissa. Perhaps it's a writerly thing!

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    1. I think most creative people are probably messy people - although, to be fair, my dad is a very left-brain person - he's a whiz at science, math, and all of that stuff. Hmm...a conundrum to be sure!

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  10. That photo is adorable!

    As long as I have a firm idea of the plot, all is well. A few times that has not been the case, and as you found, the results aren't pleasant. Time is a precious commodity, not to be squandered. Great post! (And again, that picture is so darn cute!!)

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    1. Aw, thanks. I think I look pretty cute, too. LOL.

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