Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

A Few Words with the Unclutterer

If I'm feeling "down" or overwhelmed, nothing improves my mood faster than cleaning a desk, a drawer or a closet. Call me deranged, but I adore organizing. Perhaps that's why I was so happy a few years ago to stumble across the marvelous website Unclutterer hosted by Erin Doland. I skim through it every day.

Now, after interviewing her for this article I am, frankly, gobsmacked.

How did a former English teacher — not to mention one-time pack rat — turn herself into someone who could write a book in four months? Erin's practical, no-nonsense attitude toward writing should offer a model to anyone who has struggled with getting words on the page. Don't wait for inspiration. Just write! Here is my recent interview with Erin:

Can you briefly describe your writing day?

I wake up around 6:30 a.m., feed my son and get him ready for the day, drink a blissful cup of coffee, and then settle down at my desk. I'll write from 7 a.m. until 10 a.m. without interruption. I try not to check e-mail or listen to voicemails or do any administrative work until after that. From 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. I'll tend to the busy-work part of my job (media interviews, reader questions, bug fixes, spam deletion, checking in with my agent or editor, etc.). I'll take a lunch break until 1 p.m., and then it's back to dedicated writing until 3:30 p.m. From 3:30 until 6 p.m. I'll run to the post office or edit a speech or finish up any work that has to be done before the end of the workday. At 6 p.m., I'll close my laptop and spend time with my family. If I have more writing I need to do, I'll tackle that after my son goes to bed. Some days are 12 hours or more at my desk — especially when I'm working on a book. My workday is the opposite of glamorous.

Are there any techniques you use in your life as an "unclutterer" that you also use in your writing life?

Every aspect of my working life is dedicated to writing about simple living, so it's no surprise that this carries into how I work. I try to write in a straightforward, authentic style. I batch process most of my repetitive tasks. I use two monitors to keep my visual space uncluttered. I use project management software to plan out my writing assignments. I spend the last 10 minutes of the workday getting all of my materials set for the next morning.

Roughly how many words is your book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week, and how long did it take you to write it?

If memory serves me correctly, the final manuscript is just 65,000 words. The first draft I turned in was 80,000 — my editor and I had to cut out a great deal to keep it the size the publisher wanted. It took me about four months to write, and just three weeks to edit. My editor and I are still shocked with how fast we turned it around for the design team. [Daphne is shocked, too! This is an extraordinarily fast turn-around in the publishing industry.]

What was different about writing the book versus writing your blog? Which was harder to do and why?

Writing is writing. I didn't really notice much difference in the process of crafting the book versus crafting blog posts. The book editing process, however, was different since there was another person involved (Cara Bedick, my amazing editor who is now at Penguin). At Unclutterer, I'm the final word on content. I was far from being the final word on the content for my book.

As a first time book author, what was the biggest surprise about getting your book published?

The business aspect of book publishing is so much more in your face than I had expected. Everything is about numbers and target markets and sales strategies. I never had a conversation with anyone about Art or Writing. We talked about Product and Content.

Regardless, when you really, really, don't feel like writing what do you do to get yourself in front of your computer again?

Writing is my job. Every day I get up and write, even when I'm on vacation. There are certainly days when I don't feel inspired to write, but I do it anyway. I don't wait for inspiration to strike, if I did I wouldn't have a book or a website. I've always loved the Leigh Michaels' quote "Waiting for inspiration to write is like standing at the airport waiting for a train."


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday December 14th 2010, 5:14 AM
Comment by: paul B. (jackson, MS)
Great article! Sometimes clutter enhances my life. At other times it frustrates me. It is somewhat like my physical workout routine--sometimes I am in shape, at other times I am not. Although I find myself being consistently inconsistent in all aspects of my life, it does make me a happy camper to periodically "clean house" and rearrange things.
Tuesday December 14th 2010, 8:44 AM
Comment by: Graeme Roberts (Pittsford, NY)Top 10 Speller
Yikes! I feel sick.
Tuesday December 14th 2010, 1:19 PM
Comment by: Aj.Scribe (Dallas, TX)
I don't know how Daphne does it. Can't say more right now, the D-8 CATERPILLAR unclutterer BULLDOZER just showed up, wanting to know which end of my desk(s) to start with. Thanks again, again, and again.
Adding to Erin Doland and our natural style, integrating David Allen's, Getting Things Done and Ready for Anything is a closer.

Many project management software programs are out there, could we have the name and how does Erin apply the software to writing?

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