Cold Weather, Writing, and Me

Interview with Horror Novelist Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin

Writing Amid Clutter



I once worked in an office where I had a large cubicle as my office space. My desk, spare chair, and even part of the floor had stacks of paper arranged in seemingly haphazard ways. My supervisor came by one day and asked me to straighten it. I looked at the mess and replied, “It can be neat or I can get the work done.”

The way the surroundings are is the way my mind works. As one writer friend says, “One big whirlwind in a stewpot.” There is a threshold—too much clutter and I can’t concentrate. Too little, and my mind empties into blankness.

I do have a system for the mess, although darned if I can explain it. But I know when I’ve crossed it. There’s a weight on my shoulders that forces me to think of the clutter instead of the next scene. Deadline or not, the pen goes down, the computer gets turned off, and I begin putting things away and shredding paper.

The opposite end of the scale is when company goes home. I tend to look around and wander aimlessly through the space, searching for those elusive ideas that faded into the woodwork. It takes a little time but a few scattered books and papers and a sweater or two tossed on a chair, and I’m ready to consider work.

What about you? Is clutter a help or a hindrance to your writing?


* Used by permission: © 2015 Trina Schart Hyman and Pawprints, Inc.




  • jan • October 12, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    I have piles all around me. But it’s my hard drive that’s the real mess! It gets so bad that I have to sometimes take a day off and de-clutter my computer’s desktop! (love the picture)

    • J. M. Levinton • October 12, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      OMG yes, my computer clutter is just as bad! LOL

      The picture is actually on a notecard I bought years ago (and keep meaning to frame). Inside the card it says, “Just as soon as I get organized….” I’m proud of the fact that I hunted down the owner of the copyright and asked permission before using it.

  • Sarah • January 4, 2016 at 12:10 am

    Clutter kills my creativity. I can’t concentrate. But I do have piles of “organized” clutter. I would love a completely clutter-free workspace but I can never seem to keep it that way. I still try… 😉

    • J. M. Levinton • January 4, 2016 at 12:38 am

      I was fine and then suddenly I was overwhelmed. I realized that the physical clutter created mental tiredness so I’m really going through stuff! (Which is exhausting too but at least the gears in my head have started cranking out a story idea in-between the shredding.)

  • Paula • January 4, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    A clean desk is the sign of an empty mind. Or so I tell myself. I’m rather like you, though I don’t know if our threshold is the same. When I’m in the flow, I don’t pay much attention to material surroundings, and can let things pile up. But I hit a certain point and the clutter invades my mental space. Of course there are also times when I’m having writer’s block or anxious about some aspect of the process, and then I absolutely have to clean the whole house yes right now IMMEDIATELY. 😉

    • J. M. Levinton • January 4, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      “A clean desk is the sign of an empty mind.”

      YES! Exactly. But right now it’s so far in the other direction that I got swamped. I’m turning it around but it’s a slower process than I like.

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