Tuesday, 26 July 2011

If I could find the camera... Celia Rees

I'd take a photo of the chaotic mess that is my study. I know it's in here somewhere, I just can't remember which pile it is under. As a writer, I'm as prone to rituals as the Lords of Groan and one of patterns that has emerged over the years is the Big Clear Out after a book is finished, a physical and mental de-clutter before the next project gets truly underway. That is one way of spinning it, the other is I just can't find anything: letters, tax forms, notes and print-outs, books, cameras, staplers, rulers, anything I actually need has disappeared.

The problem is twofold. I am naturally messy and find it difficult to throw things away. I have, for example, a great many books - not just on the two walls of shelves, but in piles on the floor, table, futon, chair, any flat surface, and I find it hard to part with them. This is not just sentimental. I never know when I might want them and I can guarantee the next time I think, 'I know I've got a book about that somewhere', that will be the book that's gone to Oxfam. I need more space (move house? Rent storage?) to put them and I need some kind of coherent cataloguing system (alphabetical? By subject? Dewey Decimal?) but I can never quite decide how to organise them (too many decisions) so that does not get done.

Then there are the foreign editions of my own books that publishers have kindly sent to me. It is wonderful to have foreign editions, but they do mount up. If I could find a good home for them, then I could use the storage space for other stuff. If anyone has any ideas for safe disposal, please let me know.

And then there are the notebooks. Like many writers, I love stationery and find it hard to resist the lure of The New Notebook. Consequently, I have many: big ones, small ones, hard back, soft back, posh, expensive, cheap spiral pads. Most of them have something written in them, so should they be retained, part of my 'archive'? Should I even have an archive, or is that just another excuse not to throw things away? More dilemmas...

Quite apart from all that, there are the box files of documents, notes, correspondence (archive again) - should I just throw the lot out, would I even notice? Going through everything is a big job, one I keep putting off because I've got better things to do (like writing books) but I can hardly move at the moment and I actually don't have a book to write, so I guess I've run out of excuses, except I've got a blog to write - now, where is that camera?

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20 comments:

Stroppy Author said...

Celia, this is brilliant. And my life exactly. Finished a book yesterday, can't move in my office... Perhaps we shd swap and tidy each other's spaces? Much easier to be objective about someone else's clutter/archive. But don't throw out that thing that looks like a random bit of bone. Or that stick. No, it's not going to work.

However - foreign editions. I was talking to the librarian at Small Bint's school and casually asked if she had children whose first language was [insert any language in which you have foreign editions] and she was *delighted* to have them. Worth a try? Always assuming you can find a school that still has a library, of course...

Creative said...

So familiar! But you know all these life-style shows that tell you to declutter and get rid of the books? They're crazy. Books are such good insulation. Put your bookcase aganist an outside wall... six inches insulation!
Uni is threateneing to halve our office space and make us share offices. What will beocme of the three hundred books stored there?

Linda Strachan said...

This rings so true with me, too. My desk just seems to attract clutter and even when I do clear it,(oh, the joy!) and the piles of books etc etc that accumulate on the floor, it seems to happen again so quickly.
Before I know it the debris is creeping towards the desk, piling up on top of it and I am leaning over a ple of paper just to reach the keyboard.
This is why I retreat to Tuscany (the shed) to write. There the desk is clear and it is free of clutter- bliss!

Joan Lennon said...

And I'll give you another good reason NOT to tidy up - sore heart-strings! It's like watching the first Harry Potter movies and having your sentiment centres horribly twanged by how young they are. Similarly tidying - coming across baby projects that never grew up, flashes of creativity that went down the pan (there's a mixed metaphor in there, but hey - let it go), even your early notes on the book you've just finished - do you remember when you barely knew those characters and certainly had no idea of what was going to happen to them ...?

No, keep tidying to a minimum, I say, and save on heartache. Oops, another pile of paper just fell over on (off) my desk! Well, thank goodness for floors.

Celia Rees said...

Oh, I know, I know! So wonderful to know that I've got some soul mates out there. Hmm, totally new space to muck up - now, that's a thought, Linda!

adele said...

Moving to a smaller house is good for decluttering! And get in touch with Seven Stories who will start an archive for you and you can give them all your 'papers'...they'd love that, I'm sure. They took a box weighing 45 lbs from me when we moved. All it contained was what I call 'bumph'...letters, postcards, odd clippings from local papers etc. They added it to my "archive" and will do the sorting and keep whatever they think is interesting and chuck the rest. A huge weight literally off my mind.

madwippitt said...

Oh yes, I know this well! But think how much time you save not having to hoover the floor ...

The Time Sculptor's Secret said...

This rang a bell with me too... the one way to guarantee finding a great use for something I've given precious house room to for years is to give it to charity. This usually happens within days! Jane Gray

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Linda said...

I can't work unless my desk is tidy. Now I know why I haven't been published yet!

Anna Bowles said...

My desk is always bare and the shelves tidy!

Hm, maybe this explains why I've yet to get an original novel into print but am in demand as an editor of massive, continuity-boggling series...

Book Maven said...

I am not going to comment on the state of my study, since I have a book to hand in on Thursday, which I should be writing now!

But re: foreign editions. I put one of each in my "foreign editions" bookshelf and the rest in a cupboard in the attic. When it overflows, I contact the nearest International School and heave boxes and boxes of books over to them.

I also ask my publishers to send two copies only of each foreign edition.

Hope this helps.

Mary

scattered_laura said...

He he he. I'm far too familiar with the lure of The New Notebook. My husband calls it my "Little Fetish". Well I'd rather be into notebooks than something weird...like feet. Seriously...people who like feet too much creep me out. Maybe I should write a story about a psycho with a foot fetish. But of course, I'll need to get a new notebook to write it in...

Celia Rees said...

I'm down to two books only too, Mary, but I've still got loads from when they sent squillions. Trouble with International Schools is they don't take all languages, but its a thought. If you (or anyone else) has a handy address, just e mail me personally or via my web site. I'll definitely have a think about 7 Stories, Adele, and good to know that I struck a chord and am not alone in a tidy world. Meanwhile, now I've uncovered enough floor, the hoover beckons...

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Celia you've obviously touched a nerve here. I share my workspace with my husband... I've just paced it out 3m X 4m, so 12 Sq metres. But the division is not down the middle. I overflow into his side and use the floor too and there's not an inch of my desk that is free of paper. But how on earth does one work any other way? I need it all. Now where is my keyboard?

Penny Dolan said...

At times it's like sitting in a crumbling edifece - one bit of paper or book or file gets moved and several others creep into the space in the blink of an eye.

And I'd always imagined you as one of the tidy ones, Celia! (Unclear desk, clear writing, perhaps? Or so I'd like to dream . . .)

Savita Kalhan said...

Great post! My shoe-box of an office is as cluttered as yours by the sounds of it, and it will probably remain so, which is why I can no longer write in there but retreat to another room in the house with my lap-top! If my shoe-box of an office was twice or three times as big, would it be as cluttered? Probably!

Cindy Jefferies said...

My local library (yes, luckily I do still have one) is grateful for all the foreign editions I can give them.

My study has become a dumping ground, and like Savita I don't often write in it any more. It's kept strictly for the horrible stuff like tax returns and other paperwork. Trouble is, there's not much room left for dumping any more stuff...there's no escape from a clear up every now and then!

Thanks Celia. You've really struck a chord with this post! Shall go and tidy immediately!

Cindy

madwippitt said...

You have offices and broom cupboards to work in? What bliss! My mum is coming for dinner tomorrow and I have to attempt to clear a space on the dining room table so she has somewhere to put her plate ...

Leslie Wilson said...

Just in case you're still looking at these comments, Celia - I always imagined you in an immaculately tidy house!!
What a relief!