Coming Clean

Lucy Cleaning

There’s a thing about cleaning and creating. It’s as if the two share the same muscle, the identical energy source. But, despite that commonality, the two can’t seem to co-exist.

I learned this when I first started writing, seriously writing. I had written two screenplays in film school and was toying with my third, now as a working woman low on the totem pole of a major production company. A woman across the hall, serving as an assistant for entertainment attorneys, was also a struggling writer. She and I would bump into each other at the elevator banks or, occasionally, in the ladies, when we would take our time washing our hands, reapplying lipstick, buying a bit more of a break before going back to work. One day, in the hallway, I had asked her how her weekend went, knowing she was going to spend it working on a script.

“Oh, you know,” she started. “The house got really clean, the dog got really clean, the car got washed, but I hardly wrote a page.”

I realized I had performed similar procrastination — which can hardly be called “procrastination” when you are productive and have proof that you weren’t idle. Look at those gleaming floors! But, the more I noticed my need to clean came just as I was about to write, I acknowledged what I was up to. It wasn’t my inner Martha coming to call. I was avoiding the work.

This is a dangerous thing for a writer. If we can come up with a legitimate reason not to write, we will. Why? Because writing is painful. The start of it, anyway. Not always, but enough of the time that we will look for reasons to avoid it. It’s not because we don’t love it. It’s because we love it so much. It’s painful because we know we will have to stop to go back to real life and waiting responsibilities. That stings. So, in order to bypass that pain, we will do something that no one can judge us for: we will clean.

Trust me when I say it’s not something we truly enjoy. Cleaning is a compromise. A quaint way to avoid. (This is one of the reasons I got myself a robot.) When we are in the story, though, we are blissed out. We want nothing to get in our way. Especially chores. And that’s the flipside of this cleaning coin. When we are deep in the writing, the home becomes something of a disaster. Clean? You must be kidding. We are using that muscle for its truer purpose — getting what’s in our brains onto the page.

The irony of this is that I can’t create surrounded by mess. So there’s the endless dance of where to put the available energy. The endless quest in any artist’s life for balance. I really want a housekeeper. But, I find the compromise. The dishes get done twice a day. The bathroom is tidied as I go. My floors are spic and span (I love my robot). But the dusting is where I fail. It goes a week or so before getting done. I know, I know. It’s embarrassing to admit. I long for a little drone to take care of that task. (Hint, hint techies.) Or a writing career that will pay for staff.

Unfortunately, I’m not quite there yet. So tomorrow, when I tackle laundry, I’ll whip out the Swiffer and dust. Right now, I have to get back to Chapter 15 with only 16 days left to finish 3 more chapters. And that leaves the rest of my life in slight disarray.


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