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  • Maureen Boyle

The messiness of writing

I do not have a neat desk. I do not have a neat office. Some might even say I work in chaos. But, as fellow clutter-writers may agree, there is organization to those piles of file folders and books on the desk, on the table, on the floor. Yes, I do know (usually) where everything is. I can pull out that stray note or report from what appears to be a random stack.

The state of my desk - and desks over the years - has been a point of contention for editors and a running joke among colleagues. There was a note in my "permanent file" at one newspaper threatening firing if the desk wasn't cleaned. A fire hazard may or may not have been mentioned. It was, after all, during the time when smoking was allowed in newsrooms but I don't really think that was the concern. A fellow reporter at another paper once wrapped my desk with police caution tape. My family just keeps my home office door shut and collectively shake their heads when peering in, hoping it doesn't spread to the rest of the house. Their hopes are dashed regularly.

When I started work at a college with my own office, I pledged to keep my desk neat. After all, there was now lots of space. File cabinets, shelves, drawers - all of the things you need to keep things orderly and tidy. And it worked. For awhile. Like a few months. I did try. I really did. I try to purge the paperwork as much as possible but find the only things I wind up tossing are the very things I need a month later. Once a year, I wheel the blue recycling bin from down the hall to my office, filling it with newspapers (yes, print newspapers), stray paperwork and other associated stuff while old tests go into a separate pile to be shredded. The bin gets filled, part of the desk top can be seen and the rest of the stuff winds up neatly stacked in a corner to be sorted later (at least that's what I tell myself) when there's more time.

The attempt at order often fails, though. Files get misfiled. Paperwork needed to be saved wind up tossed. The order of the disorder is disrupted. Would life and work be easier if everything was neat? Yes, probably, maybe. I have one drawer where notes, lectures, PowerPoint printouts and student handouts for a specific course are organized by week and topic. I've put everything back into the marked hanging files each week. It seems to work. But that drawer is filled with information about the history of journalism, times now stilled on the pages of textbooks. It isn't the one filled with news writing exercises and information about ever changing chaotic world of reporting. Apps bloom and wither (Meerkat and Vine come to mind). Technology (remember Google Glass?) is heralded one season then discontinued the next. The reporting classes will never be neat and orderly because the business like life: a bit messy and always in flux.

I'm hauling that blue bin down the hall again as the semester ends. I know it may fill up but there is much still left and more things to add to the office after the summer. In the meantime, I will be reading and writing and researching and adding to the stacks in my home office while writing my next true-crime book. And I do know where to find each report in the stacks.

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