It wasn’t supposed to be this way at all… Originally, when my husband and I were thinking ahead to June, July and August 2012, we envisioned long, leisurely days of not being stressed out by either of our jobs (he’s a high-school teacher, I’m a writer), spending time with our teenage son and, at most, exerting ourselves by finally *really* cleaning out the garage — in between devouring bowls of our favorite Ben & Jerry’s.
Then, my 90-year-old father-in-law had a health issue and needed to be moved into a place that could better assist him with his special diet, exercise requirements and medications. He had been living independently, with the help of both of his sons bringing him most of his meals and taking care of his chores around the house, for five years — ever since the passing of my wonderful mother-in-law — so this move was a big change for him.
Turned out, it was also a big change for us, since we were now put in charge of cleaning out his townhouse from top to bottom…a task that has proven more time consuming than any of us imagined. (Let’s just say, my father-in-law is an “enthusiastic collector” of many, many items!)
So, while I can’t say we’re having the calm, work-free summer we’d expected, I will admit to having learned these five valuable lessons while cleaning. Lessons that are also surprisingly applicable to the manuscript I’m preparing to revise this month:
1. Less is more.
Even the best ideas can get lost in a sea of extraneous prose. You know, like those really cool airplane goggles that you got in France back in 1952, which would be awesome to display on your shelf…if only you could find them from beneath the rubble in your closet. Get rid of what you don’t need. Keep only what you truly love or think is incredibly functional. And (speaking as someone who tends to over-write) even then you may still have too much.
2. If something doesn’t work and you can’t fix it, throw it out.
Sometimes, I’m just not sure if I’m ever going to use a particular item again, so I stick it in a drawer (or leave it in the middle of Chapter Four, scene two), but as soon as I realize I’m either not going to use it or it quite simply doesn’t work, I need to get rid of it. There is no reason to wait. Really.
3. You need to be able to do a smooth walk- or read-through.
Ideally, you want to be able to zip from room to room — or from scene to scene — without a lot of distractions pulling you out of your stroll. If you find you’re having to stop in the middle of every other step to pick up some crumpled papers left on the floor or you have to swerve to move around a haphazard clump of unwashed laundry (or, um, an awkwardly worded description), it will keep you from enjoying the atmosphere.
4. If you’re stuck or overwhelmed by one section, move to another for a while.
There are certain rooms/scenes that I might not feel I’m making good progress on during a given day. Thankfully, there is plenty of work to do when both cleaning and revising! Sometimes, spending a few hours getting a different area in order is just what I need so I can figure out what to do with another section.
5. What you apply to one project, you can apply to another.
This is probably the lesson I’m most grateful for — I’ve learned things by revising one book (and by cleaning out one house) that I can put to direct use in another. That tendency I have to use too many ellipses…and to overly “quote” things that don’t actually need quotation? Well, I’ve been on the lookout for those vices already in my new manuscript. And toning down my packrat tendencies and reorganizing our garage at last? I feel I’m better equipt to do it now — with or without the help of Ben & Jerry’s — although that’s always been a good motivator for me!
What are you doing this summer? Any big home projects? Fun trips? Family events? Please share!