I say these words over and over because they’re so very true. I don’t recall the source, but I do remember when I first heard them. I was sitting on the living room floor, surrounded by a mess of papers, drawings, art supplies, books, and snacks as I worked on a project. Yes, creative people make big messes.
It was then as I began the “cleaning up” process that I fully understood this little saying. As I sorted through ideas and inspirations — keeping some and discarding others — my mess turned into a completed project.
I approach fiction from this perspective, too. I make a huge mess with story ideas all over the place. I scribble notes on odd scraps of paper. I grab research books to keep close at hand. Putting a story together does get very messy indeed.
For what it’s worth, my current project — The Sheriff Wore Skirts — is a disastrous mess at the moment. Even though I began with a synopsis for the publisher, now that I’m working on the story, I’m seeing new possibilities. New characters are emerging. New complications and conflicts are happening.
What do I do? I let it happen. It’s wondrous fun.
To me, it’s much like working a jigsaw puzzle…only first, I have to create all the pieces.
I won’t use them all. As with any creative project, I’ll find myself throwing away things that aren’t needed, sorting out what’s right for the story, getting rid of ideas that don’t fit. Gradually, the mess will be picked up. The research books will go back on the shelf. The little scraps of paper will be tossed aside. A finished manuscript will come together, ready to go to the publisher.
Don’t ever get discouraged when your creative efforts result in a huge mess. That’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s a process, and making a mess — the bigger, the better — is the first step toward success. Celebrate all the mixed-up, confused ideas. Scatter the pieces of your own puzzle around so you can look at them from different angles. Pick things up and play with them. Enjoy the mess!
Then begin the cleaning-up process. Throw away or set aside things you know you don’t need. Find what’s most important and build around it. Add in possibilities that might work. Discard ones that don’t work.
Slowly and surely, as you clean up the mess — whether it’s an art project, a poem you’re writing, a recipe you’re cooking, or any other endeavor — you’ll see a beautiful creation shining through.