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Creativity: The Cleaning Connection

Catching up on cleaning out my emails recently, and something happened that I often hope for but rarely experience: finding something outstanding buried among the detritus of newsletters and sales pitches I really need to unsub from. It was a link to a TED Talk by Adam Grant in which he discussed, among many other fabulous things, the science behind adding just the right touch of procrastination to the creative process.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about the TED Talk for you because I really encourage you to take about 16 minutes and watch the whole thing. But to the point of procrastinating: Grant quotes Aaron Sorkin, the successful creative mind behind many hits including two of my favorites, The West Wing and Moneyball:

Grant, who is an organizational psychologist, shared some statistics indicating that people who procrastinate just the right amount (just a little bit), at just the right time (after the project has begun, not before), often have better results with their end product than people who don't. Because SCIENCE.

Now that we have permission from the creativity experts to goof off (like we weren't gonna goof off today anyway *snort*), I can feel A-OK about my procrastination activity of choice: cleaning AKA ProcrastiCleaning. I know some of you are out there shaking your head, wondering why in the name of all that is holy, if I now have permission to goof off, I'm wasting precious goof-off time on such a mundane activity.

I wish I had an answer. I don't even LIKE to clean. I mean, I'm not a hoarder or anything, but at my house on any given day, one might find a layer of dust or a carpet that needs vacuuming if one were to look especially carefully. I'll clean, but I don't especially enjoy the experience. Unless there's writing to be done. The closer the deadline, the better I like it. Then I'll clean like a banshee. And I don't mean dusting and vacuuming. We're talking major cleaning jobs, like detailing the car. Or taking a toothbrush to the knots in the heart pine flooring to get every bit of Sheetrock dust from a recent project out of there. Or possibly disassemble-the-plumbing-under-the-bathroom-double-vanity-to-scrape-out-the-mysterious-crud-inside-the pipes-under-my-husband's-sink (but not mine!) cleaning. Not that I would ever do that. In any case, ProcrastiCleaning is not for the faint of heart (or knee, or back).

Apparently, I'm not alone. I can tell by the number of 'Amen, sistah!' responses on social media any time the subject comes up. And those are just from the ProcrastiCleaners who are loud and proud and out of the cleaning closet. For each of them, I'm sure there are twenty more writers out there, still pretending they are actually straight-up cleaning rather than avoiding a deadline. Never mind they just spent forty minutes learning how to use the attachments on the vacuum so they can Hoover the funnel cloud of dust bunnies out from under the guest room dresser. BTW Rookie Mistake: dead giveaway that you're ProcrastiCleaning if you're considering learning how to use the attachments on the vacuum.

I know cleaning to avoid writing is weird (if not bordering on counter-productive). I can't help it. But I'm not about to give it up. I have my best ideas while doing mindless non-writing-related tasks. And they're not limited to cleaning. Once I almost punctured my trachea in my haste to write down a plot twist idea I got while brushing my teeth.

This month I'm trying to salvage the brain dump also known as last November's NaNoWriMo upchuck. Now that the plumbing project is done, I need to go fire up the hub's power washer. Thank goodness for pollen season, or I'd have no prayer of meeting my deadline.


This post originally appeared as part of the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

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