|Just utterly terrifying. I think this is called "The Scooter."|
At my desk, both the stand-up and the garden variety (no garden view -- my sitting desk looks squarely at a blank wall, though I once tried to tack up a timeline there. I pulled it down two days later; I worked on it more than it needed working on), everything is, as they say, on the table. A brief survey of the surface of the stand-up shows: a box of envelopes, a flyer for the Lucha Libre matches I saw last year in Mexico City (pinned underneath two old issues of Tin House and the latest issue of Fiction), a map of San Francisco, promotional material from Booth, BULL, and DIAGRAM from this spring's AWP, some bills that should probably be attended to, books from Michael Martone, Mark Z. Danielewski, and Hans Christian Andersen, and a biography of Alfred Hitchcock. My sitting desk is similarly attired, though with a lot more books and a lot less ephemera -- it's where I do most of my reading.
There are rules of order -- things that are more likely to get read make their way to the top of piles, everything else gets buried. I am unlikely to ever need the flyer again, so it is on the bottom of its stack (unless there is something even less important underneath it). But a corner always peeks out: "Arena Mexico" it says. "El Dragon Rojo." This is likely all I will ever need from it. The SF map is open -- I must have been using it while working on Shadow Man revisions -- but folded into a pocket square of itself, so that only Union Square and the Tenderloin show. Most of the books are spine out, shelved vertically against the lectern, so that they can be referred to without having to look for them in the piles. The envelopes get self-addressed occasionally, when I submit work and require a response, something that happens so seldom now that, if I put them away in a drawer somewhere (the obvious alternative), I wouldn't be able to find them if I did need them. The promos -- alright, I'm lazy; I should throw them away, but haven't. Call it nostalgia or hoarding, I have a weakness for those kinds of things, a result of the childhood science of collectables. The journals are getting read, but in the way that journals get read: between books, at odd moments, one story or poem at a time.
My rules, if you need the cliche spelled out, are no more codified than my desk is organized. But, like the clutter, they exist nonetheless. Like the clutter, they are not the result of conscious decision but of the marks everything I come in contact with leaves on my writing combined with an inertia born of routine. When I come to the desk to write, there will be a few --a very few-- things that are neatly arranged and ready to be used, quite a few things in plain view for when I get distracted from what I'm supposed to be writing, and many more things hidden by these things in plain view. Many more things that it would ever be useful to stop and sift through, and if I did stop and sift through them, I would very quickly lose my train of thought. Which is not to say that I am not constantly stopping and sifting through them -- though much of the stuff listed above is quite old, it has all been moved in the past month or so, usually from even older piles that have recently been re-settled and re-sifted.
The "rules" that govern the formation of these stacks and agglomerations are geologic, not mathematic. They depend not on their usefulness to me for their placement but on the calcification of a particular life being lived in a particular time in a particular place. Which does not mean that the rules by which they are then utilized are happenstance. But those rules, too, are unchosen, evolutionary; I've outlined them above. As you may have suspected when reading them, they are really just expressions of convenience. But, despite their chance aspect, they determine what gets written.
When I thought about rules and writing process, I came up with no list of postulates a la Meginnis but instead a single, abiding principle -- I want always, at the end of it all, to see reduced, as homunculus to host, the logic of the story, and, turning that logic upon the story, to be able to justify every single element therein. I do not care what piles have formed, nor how they have formed or why, only that everything in them is something that wouldn't be better off in the trash. Sure it's a mess. But I know where everything is.