My ex-husband would tell you I’m a control freak. My younger sister would likely agree. To illustrate her point, my sister would tell you about the time I tried to – in her words – “strangulate” her after she poked at the covers of my recently made bed. In my defense, she deserved it. I admit that I was maybe a little overzealous about keeping my room neat (in contrast, you could easily lose a small dog in my sister’s room), but I did tell her – only moments before my fingers closed around her neck – that if she touched anything in my room, I’d kill her. I gave her fair warning.
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My Type-A (sometimes bordering on OCD) behaviors have mellowed with age, but they are still undeniably a part of who I am. As a writer, I have always worried that my neatnik/organizer/planner self was somehow intrinsically at odds with (and potentially smothering) my free-spirited creative self. My desk is neat. My files are put away. My books are shelved (don’t judge) by topic and genre. I use spreadsheets and Scrivener and To Do list apps to manage my writing projects, and I schedule my days in half-hour increments on Google Calendar.
In other words, I do not fit the “artiste” stereotype at all.
I’m not particularly rebellious or at all flighty. I don’t wander off on muse-fueled walkabouts or check out of conversations mid-sentence because I’ve been struck by a deep insight about my story. I’m not moody, overly solitary, or prone to benders on mind-altering substances. Though I’m thoughtful, I wouldn’t call myself “pensive.” Instead, I’m reliable and – though I hate to admit it – pretty predictable.
Looking at my mostly methodical approach to life and writing, I have to wonder – Is my love of order and process keeping me from accessing some mysterious source of creative genius? Does my need to herd cats and put ducks in rows undermine my authenticity as a “Real Writer?”
Though I do periodically worry about such possibilities, I believe in my heart that my organizational tendencies are more an asset than a liability.
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Quick Point of Clarification: I’m not here to convert you. If you’re a naturally “messy” or “freeform” creative type, that’s cool. I don’t want to tame your wildness or shame you for having a cluttered desk. I don’t believe that there’s any one “right” way to create art. I’m just here to battle my own insecurities about being that unlikeliest of creatures, a “neat artist,” and to do my best to reassure any other Type-A writers living mostly drama-free lives that they’re perfect and authentic just the way they are.
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It can be tough being a straight-laced writer. Being drama-free is not romantic, and being organized is not particularly sexy. These traits do, however, make it easier for you to get things done – often with less stress and in a more timely manner than if you were just “winging it.” The trick is to balance your analytical left-brained self with your imaginative and intuitive right-brained self. Embrace your systems, but don’t let them put you in a creative straightjacket. Do what you need to do to keep your chaos-averse self sane, but remember to let your mind take off on flights of fancy now and again.
Creating balance is about knowing when to access the different parts of your writer’s mind. You need to harness a variety of tools and skill sets for different parts of the writing process – brainstorming, creative “concepting,” researching, outlining, writing the first draft, revising, editing, marketing (yes, you need to do that, too) and so forth. Each step in the process requires a different ratio of analysis:imagination.
If you’re like me – naturally (almost compulsively) responsible and prone to following all the rules – you’ll need to make a conscious effort to color outside the lines, goof off, and consider “crazy” options and possibilities both in your stories and in your writing life. If, on the other hand, you tend to pay more attention to your muse than to deadlines, you’ll want to sharpen your project management and organizational skills.
Speaking to those of you who, like me, worry that your creative spark will be snuffed out by too much structuring, organizing, and good behavior, I urge you to take heart. The reality is that success as a professional writer relies heavily on your ability to play by the rules and deliver on promises. While natural creative genius is lovely, it won’t take you very far unless you can pair it with a strong work ethic, an efficient writing process, and a sterling reputation. Sure, there are a few renegades out there who will “make it” despite being completely unreliable and burning bridges all over the place; but they are rare anomalies.
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So, please, don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not a “Real Writer” if your writing process includes more dedication than daydreaming and more planning than pantsing. Don’t let anyone knock your love of spreadsheets, index cards, or character dossiers. Don’t feel guilty about your goody two-shoes habit of meeting deadlines and taking editors’ feedback sans indignant outbursts. These things don’t compromise your artistic integrity, they help you strengthen and preserve it. And, I can guarantee that they will make you a more sought-after team member/contributor/writing resource.
So, go forth and own your bad-ass, organized writer identity. Wear your reliability like armor, and wield your left-brained skills like a righteous sword of getting-things-done. Love your muse, but don’t undervalue everything else you can bring to the table.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.