I have sorely neglected this website since October for several reasons, my primary excuse being that I finally moved house in November. Not only have I been very pressed for time but my creative juices ran dry and I have felt bereft of inspiration of any kind. Such is the soul-destroying nature of the English housing market and conveyancing process!
The sheer amount of physical stuff we had to move between old dwelling and new made me think about hoarding. We’ve all seen the extreme hoarding shows on TV and interestingly I actually know a couple of hoarders who are unable to use whole rooms in their homes due to clutter, one of whom has to walk sideways through the mountains of piled up papers and magazines in his flat’s usable rooms. Hoarding has deep emotional roots and I can highly recommend the wonderful and insightful book by Lisa Jewell, The House We Grew Up In, which takes a painful look at the effect of hoarding on a whole family.
But as writers, do we emotionally hoard? Are our minds as cluttered as the hoarder’s home where nothing is thrown away in case it can somehow be used in a future piece or novel? Although I like my physical house to be organised and ordered and very clean and tidy — and my husband leans towards minimalism — I fear that rather than the tastefully furnished spacious and modern loft apartment, my brain actually resembles a very overstuffed and sprawling ramshackle house where broken items are not discarded in case they can be mended one day and each room is piled from floor to ceiling with possessions the owner couldn’t quite bring herself to throw out. Snippets of overheard conversations, things I’ve read, characters in films: they are all whirring round my brain ready to be used some time in the future.
Is this the sign of a creative mind: chaotic and bursting full with ideas, some only embryonic, some reasonably well-developed, never resting, always alert? Is it good for a writer to see the value of something old that can be dusted off and restored for future use? I have tried mindfulness – see previous blog – but I just cannot get on with it as random thoughts and ideas pop into my brain when I am trying to concentrate on something else. The same is true for meditation: emptying my mind proves impossible. Although isn’t writing the ultimate mindfulness activity?
I try to write ideas down in notebooks so they are not lost and in the hope that by transferring them onto physical paper, it will free up brain space to let in other things. I even tried to have a break from writing while I was moving and couldn’t face the blank page, but the need to force those words out could not be shifted. I have heard it said that as a writer you write because you simply have to.
So surely emotional minimalism is anathema to the writer: we need our cupboards to be stuffed full of colour and chaos.