The write-changing joy of tidying your office

I know Marie Kondo has had her third child and given up on tidying up, but I find it an invaluable part of my writing process.

At the beginning of each year, I tidy my office. And by tidy, I mean go through it like a dose of salts and throw stuff out. Papers, notes, files I’ll never use again, business cards I’ll never look at again, books I’ll never read again (these go to others who might use them).

But give it a few months and things are beginning to go south again – and I can feel the impact on my writing. There is something about being surrounded by stuff that makes it harder to think clearly. And being surrounded by books written by other people seems to create interference – static if you like – when I’m trying to find the right words for my own work.

I am not, by nature, a planner. I am not even a particularly organised person. I’ve always been someone who likes things out where I can see them, so my physical desktop is a mass of piles – bills to be paid on the right, diary on the left, notes for my current project in a folder over here, space in the middle for my keyboard.

My computer desktop is similar. I keep images on the desktop in one quarter. Zoom and audio recordings in another. Things I need to think about this month over on the right. Things that can wait until next month on the left.

Right now, though, I’m starting to feel surrounded.

I get a lot of bookmail for my podcast, and it’s begun to spill off the shelf, onto the floor, and creep towards my feet.

Research for my current manuscript has begun to slide sideways, under the weight of Post-It Notes.

It’s time to tidy up.

Why tidy up?

While I’m not one to espouse the clean desk, clean mind theory of living (personally, I think a completely clear desk suggests a totally blank mind and I’m a bit scared of that), I do recognise that putting clear space around you leaves a lot of room for the words to get in.

So I approach my office tidying with that in mind.

1. Sort stuff out. I go through the books and work out which I’ll donate to local school libraries and which I’ll keep for giveaways. Then I bag them up and move them out of the space. Papers are divided into keep and recycle – and I tend to find that the recycle pile is much higher. Anything kept is put into a manila folder or filed if I don’t need to access it immediately.

2. Rearrange if necessary. As someone who writes at her desk in the same place every day, even the slightest change can bring a different way of thinking about my writing. I noticed this when I moved house a few years ago. A new room brought new views but also new sounds outside, new distractions, new light. It took me a few rearrangements to come up with a furniture set up that felt right. Maybe you need to change the desk around or move the bookcase too?

3. Dust. Moving things around in your office will make you realise just how much dust accrues even if you clean regularly. Dusting down surfaces – and particularly computer or audio equipment – brings a freshness that you’ll notice next time you sit down. It’s as though all of those ideas that have gone before have left fragments behind – get rid of them and give yourself a clean slate.

4. Remember that steps 1 and 2 should be applied to your computer desktop as well. 

Don’t get carried away

There is no doubt that cleaning can be seen as an offshoot of procrastination and can be a problem if you’re using it to distract from actual writing. But if you give yourself an hour to put your immediate world to rights, you’ll feel the ramifications in your writing world for weeks, if not months.

And then it’s time to do it again.


Author bio
Author Allison Tait smilingAllison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al is currently editing her latest middle-grade novel The First Summer of Callie McGee. Find out more about her at

Browse posts by category
Browse posts by category

Courses starting soon


Nice one! You've added this to your cart