Writing Spaces for Trash Gremlins

This is a blog post to validate all the gross writers. I know your shame. Your writing space is unfit for Instagram. You quietly walk amongst artists with reclaimed wood desks and tasteful potted succulents, wondering if this neat desk thing is what’s stopping you from finishing your manuscript. I say worry no more—embrace chaos.

A painting of a clean, grey room with a writing desk and chair. Above the desk rest two framed drawings of blurry figures. A white oval shaped piece of art hangs above. A young man in a suit leafs through a notebook. Behind him a painting rests on the floor, image facing the wall.
Interior with Young Man Reading, Vilhelm Hammershøi, 1898. It's best to accept your desk is never going to look like this and move on.

A professor once told me the only way he could start writing was to completely clean his desk. Other people in the class nodded understandingly, including my best friend/college roommate. She kept her side of the dorm pristine, like a turquoise-themed showroom in a Pottery Barn, and composed short stories at a workstation worthy of her elevated writing aesthetic. Unfortunately, she could always see my side of the room—a gremlin hovel.


When I’m writing, you should imagine me crouched in a pile of garbage. I have a favorite pen, but I can only find it half the time. My literal desktop is covered in books, mail, receipts, cat medicine, and dirty mugs. My computer desktop is strewn with PDFs for research and memes I download to share with friends if I ever get around to remembering. There’s a pile of sweaters at the foot of my desk. I take them on and off as I write because I can never quite set the thermostat right.


My husband, a kind and patient soul, looks at my trash nest with concern.


“Maybe we can get you some nice baskets.”


“Hmm. Yeah. Maybe,” I murmur as I peck out a search query for the geographic range of pangolins.


We browse places like Target for an organization solution. Nothing looks like it will fit my desk drawers. I just know I’m going to loathe the texture of the ones they might fit. I now have the good sense not to bother buying them at all.


I understand that my life would be objectively easier if I knew where everything is, but then, remembering my self-imposed organization system becomes a chore I’m only in the mood for at 10:30 AM, post-coffee, post full night’s sleep, so long as it’s not too windy, and I don’t have a meeting that day. If I have a meeting, all ambient memory must check the clock every 20 minutes to make sure I haven’t forgotten it. I have about a dozen daily planners that I used for maybe seven weeks and then lose. I find them somewhere weird, like the top of the fridge when there are only two usable months left.


For any armchair psychiatrists, rest assured I already have several diagnoses. At this point, I’m a DSM nihilist. I self-identify as having sensitive poet disease. If we throw amphetamines into the mix, I’ll probably explode into a cloud of iridescent starlings.


A photograph of a flock of small birds taking off from the greenery of tall grass and trees.
All of my concerns taking to the sky. No point in using a planner now.

Rather than try to be orderly, I have chosen radical self-acceptance. This is trash surfing, baby. You can’t stop the ocean, so you have to ride the wave. Once a week I do a trash triage. Trash-trash goes in a bag. Pressing paperwork goes in the pressing paperwork drawer. Books get reshelved. We’ve upgraded from shame, panic, and no action to vibing and occasional action.


If your desk situation becomes overwhelming to look at, you can always do what I do and postpone cleaning by using a computer at the library. No one needs to know how the sausage is made. Editors can’t get e. coli from my submissions. Just start writing and learn to love the mess.


Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Paige Welsh's creative work has been published in Narrative Magazine, Bear Review, and Gigantic Sequins. You can find her book reviews in The Los Angeles Review of Books and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. When she's not writing, she likes to garden with her partner Chris, and their cat, Biscuits. You can follow her on Twitter @MarkthatPaige.

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