When I was in grad school, I had this habit to clean the house to avoid the act of studying. I would study with some amount of focus for 20 minutes, and then go scrub the tub and so on.
Someone could have created a barometer of sorts for how near it was to Test Day, based on witnessing what had been scrubbed.
If the bathroom was scoured, and the bed was made, it was 5 days to the test. However if the bathroom was scoured, the bed made, the closets tidied, the laundry done, and the kitchen fridge cleaned out……then, the test was surely the next day. The place was never so clean as when a big report was due.
Now, I do the same with writing. I will struggle to capture an idea from deep within, and then remember that there was some dust on some light fixture. And, off I go.
So, it was with delight and relish that I read this poem aloud to the family. Entitled, “Advice to Writers”, By Billy Collins, the first two stanzas:
Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.
Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.
And he goes onto write that we writers shouldn’t just clean the house, we should go out into nature and even scrub the undersides of trees, and scour the nests. It’s worth a giggle or two, and so captures that moment of deception we writers and other creative types create for ourselves. We would rather scrub the toilet than face into the abyss of not knowing what we will create next.
Yet, I know that if I gave into every fear and situation like this, I would never ever write. As in: Never. Ever. Focus. Hard work is often best tacked by actually just getting to the work, and not allowing oneself to be distracted. I’ll have PLENTY of temptations in the next few weeks as I’ve signed up to produce a new book (my 2nd title) and the deadline will sneak up before I know it. So, hopefully, I will remember this. (Yet given my own history of “scrubbing the toilets” instead of studying, I recognize that I might need others to remind me.)
Billy Collins is a two-term US Poet Laureate. His gift is in capturing every day moments, and he recently spoke at TED2012. This poem is from The Apple That Astonished Paris, by Billy Collins (The University of Arkansas Press); 1988.
Video of his funny self, here, may just convince you to give poetry another chance:
Gifted, isn’t he? (And probably not by scrubbing the underside of trees, or of toilets but rather by doing the work that needs to be done.)