The new “Favorite Writing Scenes” blog series is going to examine some of my favorite scenes from film and television that are about either: writers or the writing process. Each installment in this blog series will analyze a single scene (clip) by isolating a theme that illustrates an actual advantage to be internalized from the writing process being portrayed.
Today’s blog article will focus on the importance of “organization” to the writing process and how a productive writer tends to be an organized writer. However, the “Catch 22” of this is something that Dr. Daniel Levitin has pointed out, “The obvious rule of efficiency is you don’t want to spend more time organizing than it’s worth…If you’re finding things quickly enough as it is, then don’t go to all the trouble” (Feldman 2014).
Writers love to procrastinate, so we need to be careful not to turn cleaning and organizing into just another excuse not to write. It’s important to set work times with specific goals and to keep a clean work space in order to maintain focus on the task at hand: writing.
Cleaning and Writing Scene from the Movie Limitless
In the film, Limitless, actor Bradley Cooper plays the writer, Eddie Morra. Eddie is a slovenly and unmotivated fellow who just can’t seem to get his shit together…until he runs into his ex-brother-in-law on the street and is gifted a super-stimulant in the form of a pill called, “NZT-48.”
While we can’t take NZT-48 (because it doesn’t exist), we can organize our work setting to maximize concentration and productivity. This scene from Limitless illustrates the importance of order to the writing process:
This scene is set to the song “Walking” by Ash Grunwald, and it shows what happens when Eddie (Cooper) takes NZT-48 for the first time. Eddie goes into his filthy apartment and thinks, “Home, but it couldn’t be my home – could it? But who would live like this? My first thought: torch it. But saner heads prevailed” (Limitless 2011).
Eddie (Cooper) proceeds to clean and re-organize his entire apartment, once he’s finished he’s suddenly able to start working on the novel he’d been procrastinating on, “I wasn’t high, I wasn’t wired…just clear. I knew what I needed to do and how to do it” (Limitless 2011).
The Powerful Psychology Behind Cleanliness
In the Psychology Today article, “The Powerful Psychology Behind Cleanliness,” M.D. Ralph Rybakc points out that, “Keeping things clean and organized is good for you, and science can prove it” (Rybakc 2016). Dr. Rybakc goes on to talk about how:
“A study led by associate professor NiCole R. Keith, Ph.D., research scientist and professor at Indiana University, found that people with clean houses are healthier than people with messy houses. Keith and her colleagues tracked the physical health of 998 African Americans between the ages of 49 and 65, a demographic known to be at an increased risk for heart disease. Participants who kept their homes clean were healthier and more active than those who didn’t. In fact, house cleanliness was even more of a predictor for physical health than neighborhood walkability” (Rybakc 2016).
This study showed that participants who kept their homes tidy tended to be healthier and more active than those who did not. Internalizing a cleaning routine not only keeps a home organized and sanitary, but eliminating clutter can make it easier to focus on a particular task:
“In 2011, researchers at Princeton University found that clutter can actually make it more difficult to focus on a particular task. Specifically, they found that the visual cortex can be overwhelmed by task-irrelevant objects, making it harder to allocate attention and complete tasks efficiently” (Rybakc 2016).
If a home, work space, or desk is filled with “task-irrelevant” clutter, then this is a distraction that’s been scientifically proven to make it harder to focus on a particular task. In this case, a chaotic and unorganized environment can make a complex task like writing more difficult.
The Psychology Today article quoted above is well worth the read, and has a few more examples of how/why, “Maintaining an organized schedule and a list of short-term goals can help you stay in shape” (Rybakc 2016).
Whether the goal is to stay in good physical or psychological shape, organization is one of the least messy avenues that will get you there. Remember: if you have time to lean, you have time to clean.
Keeping an organized work environment is just one of many ways to boost focus and productivity while writing, don’t forget to check out my previous article, “On Writing: Decision Fatigue and the ‘Flow State,'” for more information on the writing process!
Feldman, Lucy. “Ten Tips on Organising Your Mind, from Dr. Daniel Levitin.” The Wall Street Journal: August 18, 2014. Website: http://daniellevitin.com/levitinlab/articles/2014-08-18-WSJ.pdf
Grunwald, Ash. “Walking – Limitless Official Soundtrack.” YouTube: July 23, 2010. Website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dovf9HCgYAs
Internet Movie Data Base. “Limitless.” IMDB.com: March 18, 2011. Website: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1219289/
Rybakc, Ralph. “The Powerful Psychology Behind Cleanliness.” Psychology Today: July 11, 2016. Website: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201607/the-powerful-psychology-behind-cleanliness
Limitless (2011). “Tidying motivation video (Limitless Pill Scene).” YouTube: December 03, 2014. Website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeI7tP1YEcQ