Getting our much loved home ready to sell may not have many advantages but I have found a few. And some, like decluttering and my portable writing box, are helping me manage my writing life amid chaos.
First, I had no idea that decluttering was such good exercise. Days when I sorted and packed away years of love clutter and household debris, I easily logged 16,000 or 17,000 steps without leaving the house once. That’s over 11 kilometres, including some stair workouts, and I didn’t even have to put my running shoes on. And walking is good for creativity, right? I just hadn’t considered walking back and forth, up and down, inside the house.
So, now that I’ve decluttered the house, I just have to keep it looking like Vogue Living for all the open homes. With two children and a shedding springer spaniel, and despite the impossibility of this, I’m actually enjoying the way the house feels now so I’m going to try to replicate this in future homes. Without children’s papers lying around and books and guitars and magazines all over the living and dining rooms, the house has taken on a lightness. Maybe it’s all in my head but the house has a buoyancy it lacked before. Because my house isn’t cluttered, my brain isn’t as cluttered. It may have taken years, but I’ve finally recognized the value of a virgo and the importance of using storage properly.
Create Your Own Writing Box
One of the simple systems I’ve come up with to keep the dining table and, let’s face it, the whole house free of my writing paraphernalia, is actually quite old. Because I’m someone who likes to work all over the house, my writing stuff — laptop, books, journals, notes, pens, magazines, ink — seeps out of my writing study into other rooms. So I’ve re-invented the Writing Box.
My writing ‘box’ is actually a sturdy rectangular basket with handles. It is large but not too large that I can’t hide it away on a closet shelf. It’s the perfect way to carry my current writing needs from room to room, spread them out, and then hide them away. It’s ideal for people who have no dedicated writing space, or who are in the process of moving, or not living in their own home. It’s even great for writers with children or people they look after because you can pop it in the car and take it with you. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier.
I’ve been doing some research into writing boxes. Japan has a long history of lacquered writing boxes for calligraphy. Alexander Pope was said to have requested his writing box be placed on his bed before he woke. Jane Austen wrote on a writing slope now at the British Library. It is a rectangular mahogany writing box that opens up to form a sloped writing desk with inlaid leather top. It has a long drawer to store an inkwell, penknife, and quills, and a compartment for correspondence, spectacles and string, manuscripts and sealing wax. Apparently Austen would hide her notes when anyone came into the room. The boxes, also called writing desks, were personal items taken on travels and military expeditions, and from drawing room to drawing room.
In fact, I’ve recently fallen in love with a Regency writing box from the 1820s. It’s made from rosewood and satinwood and has a scene with oak trees and forest animals inlaid in mother of pearl. The artistry is intricate and extraordinary. Two hundred years ago, right around the time Austen was writing, someone else was writing on this elaborate box and and now I can write on it too. I just couldn’t resist. Now it holds my fountain pens and ink. And inspiration.
But writing doesn’t flow on inspiration alone. We need dedication, perseverance and excellent time management skills. That means we need to be able to write in chaos: when we’re raising a young family, tending to the elderly, selling houses, moving, renovating, travelling.
Life is not neat and tidy but our writing structures can be. That’s where my work horse of a writing box comes in. In it I have accumulated books I’m reading or using for research, several journals, a couple of diaries, pens and a few magazines. It’s a suitcase for your writing and your writing identity. With all your tools in a neat self-contained box it may even help to lessen feelings of overwhelm. It’s easy to pull out and get to work and easy to throw things back into it. Because its makes getting into writing so easy, it’s an anti-procrastination tool. If you’re an early riser like I am, just leave it out next to your bed. If you can’t write until later tuck it into a closet you go into regularly and it will be there saying “write, write, even just for a moment, write.”
Jane Austen might not have had a laptop but yours can be sitting neatly on top of your writing box in case you need to make a quick exit. Just like Jane.