Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 4:

“I will write just as soon as [fill in the blank].”

Many academics explain to me that they will get to writing just as soon as some more important task is completed.

This list is varied and fascinating—that is, as soon as

  • the apartment is clean
  • my lecture notes are organized
  • exams are over
  • the divorce is final
  • my adviser comes back from sabbatical
  • and so on.

Only you can tell when and if these situations really do demand a break from writing.

I suggest to you, however, that if you have not been writing regularly, none of these is an adequate excuse for not writing regularly.

Oddly enough, the most common “important task” of this sort is cleaning the house. Apparently, it is a common belief that one simply cannot write if the house is dirty.

The former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins even has a tongue-in-cheek poem about this impulse, urging writers to clean their house “before composing a syllable” as “the more you clean, the more brilliant your writing will be.”

So, my advice to you: Clean your house! If the way you get yourself in the writing mood is to spend fifteen minutes of cleaning before you spend fifteen minutes of writing, I’m all for it.

However, many people feel that once they start cleaning they cannot stop. Or it leads to errands and other tasks and writing never happens. They are compulsive about the wrong thing. If so, I recommend that you reverse the order and do your fifteen minutes of writing first.

Listen you don’t have to get your whole life in order before you can get started on a writing project. Writing seems to thrive in a cluttered office or untidy house.

Indeed, the brilliant British novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch never cleaned—the moldy walls and mossy books of her home were legendary—and she published over twenty-five novels and books of philosophy (Bayley 2013).

Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 4, one of the motivation obstacles listed on page 31 of Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (University of Chicago Press, 2019).

Works Cited

Bayley, John. 2013. Elegy for Iris. New York: St. Martin’s Press.