5 Mistakes that Zap Creative Mojo

This week, I have the first article in a series (woohoo! a series!).

(And these culprits are soooo not what you think they are!)

Mistake #1: Messy house or office

Ms. Perfect Kills the Writing Vibe

I used to feel really guilty that I had to make everything PERFECT on my desk and in my office in order to get to work.

Also that I always in the end manage to spend relatively huge amounts of time and money setting my office up to be a gorgeous oasis of beautiful right brain happiness before I can even start anything.

Sometimes I would try to barrel through writing even if the space wasn’t great, but in the end I found that anything ugly or seriously out of place just drove me CRAZY.

(Even if I’d made sure to meditate first, even if I used all my best writing tricks.)

Indulgent Primadonna!

And the thing is: I thought I must be a horrible prissy superficial primadonna if I wasn’t just totally focused and at the desk by 8am no matter what. I thought my need for beauty was my dirty little secret.

I thought it was just my perfectionism, that thing of trying to be so people-pleasing all the time.

So I would try to ignore my creeping ick feeling about whatever mess—the undone dishes, the mail in a pile in the corner, wearing whatever outfit I happened to throw on that wasn’t quite right for my mood. I would just try to be productive and ignore it, but the distraction was pretty constant.

This is the thing: any little mess on the fringes made me think, “Oh god, if you were remotely more together you would have ALREADY taken care of this.”

The Endless “Ick”

And what happened was during any little pause in the writing, any moment when I had to stop, think, be receptive, meander, my attention always went to . . . THAT. The ick.

And THEN I would be mad at myself not just for the ick, but for feeling bad about the ick!

It was like a massive mobius strip of self-loathing in response to a very minor bit of the debris that comes with being alive.

The energy drain wasn’t even about anything that is actually a big deal.

Sucky: I wasn’t getting to enjoy ANY headway I was making in the writing, because I felt so bizarrely awful about the icky mess in my peripheral vision.

Meet Your Inner Cavewoman!

It turns out that women are WIRED to be super-sensitive to all the details in our surroundings. It comes from being the “gatherer” part of the whole “hunter-gatherer” equation that our bodies have been designed for for hundreds of thousands of years.

According to my total favorite relationship expert, Alison Armstrong, men have “single-focus” brains and can tune everything out (socks on the floor, ladies?) that isn’t their primary purpose in any given moment.

For women, it’s not that way: if the details are off, we go nuts. Armstrong calls this “diffuse awareness,” which involves being aware of many, many things all in the same moment.

Wired into the DNA of our diffuse awareness is a constant refrain to notice the tiniest difference between the poisonous berries and the good ones. To notice the first sign of a sick child, or a spear our cave-dude forgot to take with him & left sitting out dangerously in the cave.

Our inner “cavewoman,” as Armstrong calls this survival drive still so hardwired in each of us, views mess as a threat.

So now, it looks like this: those freaking socks are screaming at us to pick them up. The dishes too. Clumpy mascara. The wrong shoes. The icky pile of unfinished paperwork. All of this taps into our instinct to make all the details in our physical space PERFECT.

So oh my god, what to DO?

Clean Up the Cave, Lady!

Well, as for the icky paperwork: we can stick that in a drawer for later. Not having to look at it takes it off our radar for awhile, certainly during a writing session.

But as far as the PHYSICAL mess around the house or in the office, I have found that just TAKING CARE OF IT before even trying to get the writing done is by far the most effective tack.

It’s not being lazy.

It’s not being perfectionist.

It’s being a girl.

Happy Cave

As a girl, you are wired to want a beautiful space, a safe space, a clean space, a space where your right brain and intuition can open up and not have to spend energy patrolling the edges for signs of danger.

Because if it’s messy or cluttered or gross, your intuition is going to sound an ALARM bell that you might be poisoning your people. That those berries just sitting there might just be the WRONG ONES and without you to clean them up RIGHT NOW, things might go very, very wrong.

See: for the writing to just flow, you don’t want those survival circuits going off. The panic and dread of the messy bits—even though rationally you know it’s not life or death, you tell yourself it’s just “minor” and “in the background”—will keep you from really hearing the quiet voice that wants to pour through you.


1. Notice: Think about the past week: what were the “ick distractions” that pulled at your energy in the pauses during your work day or writing time?

2. Ten minute option: What can you take ten minutes and fix? Start taking the time every morning to just do ten minutes of clutter clearing for your own sanity and peace. Limiting it to ten minutes for just the most immediate ick messes will keep you from going nutso and spending 2 hours vacuuming like a lunatic.

3. Sacred hour option: What icky mess could you clean up if you turned off the facebook (also a major vaccuum for our chatty gatherer energy!) and the NYT.com on Monday morning and devoted sacred time to clearing?

4. Tell me: Need a witness to make sure you follow through? I’m happy to help:

Just shoot me an email or post a comment below, and let me know a) what your sneaky ick-mess-drains are and b) what you’re committed to clear out next week. (Whether it is 10 minutes or an hour, either is great)

Can’t wait to hear about your awesomeness and your progress. Sending you big right brain- and ick-busting love. 🙂


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  1. Posted August 10, 2010 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Just reading this makes me feel better! Thanks, Elizabeth

  2. Elizabeth
    Posted August 10, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Sarah! And congratulations on the awesome success of The Opposite of Me! 🙂 so delicious

  3. Posted August 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    It is great to hear from you! I’m so happy that you are back online… and just in time. I have not written for a very long time (as you’ll see from the blog) and have been antsy and anxious.

    I always feel uncomfortable writing at home. I cannot seem to get started and then I delve into email and online nonsense.

    My solution – the library. I don’t know what it is, but being in quiet room with lots of people concentrating gets my groove on.

    Thanks so much for being here! You are awesome!!

  4. Elizabeth
    Posted August 10, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Hey Kat! So great to hear from you!

    I know, the email, the email is a big big zapper/black hole, isn’t it? There’s a DNA link there as well–we are so wired as women to TALK, we just can’t resist connection. So much easier than sitting by ourselves FOCUSING 🙂

    I always forget about the library–what a great solution. So smart–there is all that concentration energy externally, rather than the buzzy distraction of the coffee shop. . .

    Now if only they sold little gluten-free treats at the library . . . 😉

    Rooting for you!!–I’m taking that anxiety resistance you’re having as a sign that big fun awesome things are about to show up on your page. . . so keep me posted for sure

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