Why in the midst of a deadline do writers have the overwhelming urge to clean?
It’s not uncommon to receive a phone call from a writer friend who’s deep in the despair of a deadline—we all reach out at one time or another to commiserate. It’s also not uncommon to be talking to said panicked writer friend and ask, in response to a strange noise in the background, “Whatcha doin’?” only to be told, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to clean the bathroom floor tile grout with a toothbrush for months, and today I decided it just couldn’t wait any longer.” To which I make supportive cooing noises…because I’ve been there. And because I know that, strangely, cleaning does help to get writers back on track.
It’s tempting to say that tedious cleaning is just procrastination, but if we wanted to procrastinate we could do something less productive—watch TV…go shopping…make a colossal batch of bacon jam for homemade Christmas gifts. (It seemed necessary at the time.)
Cleaning, however, is not procrastinating. Because when we’re compelled to clean, it signals our brains are trying to de-clutter. If we’re honest, the reason we’re worried about and/or are behind on a deadline is probably because we’ve hit an untidy (muddy) place in our story that’s keeping us from moving forward. Scrubbing tile grout with the tiniest implement possible not only satisfies your mind’s desire to “set things right” but (if the writer allows it) the tedium of cleaning also keeps your body busy while your mind sorts through the muddy place in your story.
Repeating, if a writer occupies her hands while proactively clearing a path through the mud of her manuscript, chances are good she will emerge from the bathroom with spotless grout…and a tidier plot.
(A side note here to point out this also explains why writers tend to have breakthroughs in the shower. Cleaning tile grout…shaving your legs below AND above the knee—same thing.)
By the way, you don’t have to be a writer to put this method to the test—no matter what dilemma is pressing on you, you can snap on rubber gloves and start scrubbing your way to clarity.
Have YOU ever reached some sort of revelation in the midst of a rote household chore?