Unorthodox Writing Tips 21: Cleaning
It doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or if you’re 80, you’ve got something that needs to be cleaned out. Think about it for about 30 seconds. Do you have a dresser drawer with all sort of random things in it? Perhaps a drawer in the kitchen you call your junk drawer. Maybe it’s a box under your bed or a shoe box at the top of your closet. When was the last time you decided to just dump that drawer out on the floor and start going through the contents and seeing what you had in there? Maybe it’s the glove box of your car or even your trunk. How about that dark corner of your garage you’re afraid to enter. Heck, go under your sink and check out what’s been living under there.
Now is your chance to do some digging. Get that drawer and start cleaning (or where ever you’ve chosen). Don’t just clean, DUMP! Don’t leave everything in a huge pile, group things together. Start with piles of stuff you know is junk, what you know you need to keep, and odds and ends you have no idea how they got into that drawer in the first place. Keep sorting the piles. Tools, nuts, bolts, screws, old receipts, envelopes you’ve drawn on, bulbs, fuses, mittens. Keep sorting the piles, but don’t throw anything away just yet.
Let’s start with that trash pile. The one with the broken thumb tack, bent nail, empty card box, mostly used book of matches, and strange round things you’re not sure if they’re rat poop or not. Look at them. See how each is worn, torn, bent, broken. Try to recall how each got that way. Don’t just try to recall, get out a pen from the pen and pencil pile and write down the back of an envelope you haven’t written on yet. Write down what each is and how it got there. If you can’t remember how something got into the drawer or you can’t remember anything about it make something up. This is your chance to use that brain and really remember things that you may have forgotten or you may have tried so hard to forget.
Go ahead and finish going through all the items. Yes, I know this might take a while. It usually does. When you’re done, you’ll have a list of items. If you’re anything like me this list will go on and on and on. You’ll also have descriptions and memories about those items. You’ll have formed a personal relationship with each and every one. You’ll be able to just close your eyes and envision every little scrap of paper, birthday card, broken toothpick, and hunk of dog food.
Now we get to have a little fun. You know where I’m going with this, right? Good. I was hoping you’d tell me.
But seriously. Look over that list of items. Let’s start a simple story. You’ve got a character, perhaps two. You’ve got to give an item from one character to another. Look at that list and figure out what your character will put his/her hand into his/her pocket/purse and pull out. Look again at your list and pick a few things at random. Make sure you’ve picked out a couple of items that will actually fit in your pocket/purse. It doesn’t matter if they make sense. How many times have you asked someone for something and they pull something out of their purse and your just look in amazement thinking “What have they got that in there for?” Probably happens more often than you recall.
You’ve taken the time to clean out that drawer. You’ve got a good list of random items, objects, papers, and trash. Your descriptions are probably far different than mine and that’s the joy of this. Even if you’ve got common items in your list, they’re likely not the same as everyone else’s. If you’ve ever held a screwdriver, you know there are a many different kinds just like there are many different kinds or screws, bolts, nuts, gum. You can use this treasure trove of details, descriptions, odds and ends to add a little flavor to a story. You can go all Macgyver and put them together to solve a puzzle, riddle, escape from jail, defuse a bomb.
Don’t be afraid to put in too much description of an everyday item. It’s far easier to take out words after you’re done writing than it is to go back and think, just what was written on that card? What color were those push pins, or were they thumb tacks? What else might have been there that would have been even more interesting to use instead of the broken pocket knife? Go ahead, add a little detail. Add a little spice. Put in something that you wouldn’t normally think about and see what happens.