Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Got Junk?

By Andrew E. Kaufman, author of psychological thrillers

I’m in the middle of overhauling my kitchen. I didn’t mean to—it was an accident, but really, it was one that needed to happen.

It all started when I decided I needed a new fridge. One by one, the shelves had been busting until there was only one left, and I found myself cramming everything in at the bottom. Each time I’d open the door, food would come tumbling out onto the floor, and in some cases, even spilling. In addition to that, Old Fridge was starting to make weird noises, and I noticed the chill factor wasn’t exactly, well… chillin'. I knew it was junk, that I needed to replace it, but for some reason I tolerated the inconvenience until I no longer could.

Then I looked at Tired Old Dishwasher. I’d been tolerating him for quite some time as well; in fact, each time I ran a load, although the dishes were—in theory—clean, a lot of them still didn’t look so great, and I’d end up having to re-wash them by hand. I also couldn’t ignore the fact that Tired Old Dishwasher would look like hell next to Shiny New Fridge.

Then I glanced at Sad Old Stove and frowned at my shameful neglect.

Before I knew it, I found myself at the appliance store, swiping the card, biting the bullet, and kicking myself in the rear.

Once the new stuff arrived, I smiled. I was excited. Then I eyed my dishes, and again, I frowned—so many of them had outlived their usefulness, many with chips, and through the years I had added to the chaos by purchasing more, only to have them end up in much the same condition.

I opened my silverware drawer and through weary eyes, looked inside. The flatware was akin to what one might find in a college dorm, some mismatched, some bent, and some Just Plain Ugly.

How had I let all this go for so long? In the back of my mind, part of the reasoning was based on financial concerns. I could also blame my neglect on the fact that I’ve been working too hard, didn’t have time—but it only took One New Thing to make it painfully clear that the Avalanche of Neglect had started tumbling long before then.

So, why am I telling you this? For good reason. Bear with me.

I’m all about finding the lessons in life—I even see them in the smaller and seemingly mundane things. What was my lesson here? Junk accumulates, and while it’s often right in front of us, we sometimes fail to notice it until we’re forced to. Granted, some people are better at taking care of things than I, but on some level, and to some degree, I think we all do it.

The kitchen project happened to be running alongside my writing project—I was working on the new manuscript, and all at once the parallels were difficult to ignore. How much junk was hidden among the pages? How much of it had I failed to see? Granted, this is why we have editors—to help us see what we can’t, and that in itself is a strong indicator of why they’re so vital. But even so, as writers it’s ultimately our job to find as much junk as we can before the work falls into their hands—not doing so only makes the job that much harder, forcing them to focus their effort and energy on smaller things when they need to concentrate on the larger ones.

In many cases I’ve noticed that some authors even skip that step. They don’t bother hiring an editor (and sadly, in some cases, don’t even bother proofreading their work) before sending it out into the world, junk and all. Sometimes I’ll read entire passages—even chapters—and think, “Why is this even here? It’s junk.” I guess the reason is much the same as the one that caused me to allow my kitchen to fall into such sad shape. I neglected it.

And really, when it comes right down to it, ultimately, the responsibility is ours to not only see the junk, but also to get rid of it.

How about you? Got junk?


  1. That's always the issue with cleaning and/or remodeling: Once you start, it's hard to stop. Because fixing/beautifying one thing makes everything else look shabby. Fortunately, it's easier with writing to make precision changes because the junk never has time to accumulate.

    Your kitchen is beautiful! The colors and choices are a lot like mine. :)

    1. True, LJ. I do find it much easier to clear the verbal clutter than the physical--hitting the delete key gets rid of it in an instant. Admittedly, I'm getting better at seeking and destroying the junk in my manuscript. As for my house...not so much. Not yet, anyway. I call myself a work-in-progress.

  2. Junk tends to be comforting after awhile, you know what's there and while its falling apart its still "useful" Your kitchen sounds like the line in "Alien" when Ms. Weaver is cleaning the little girls face and says.." ut oh now we have a clean spot. Guess we better clean the rest and make it match" Or something like that,,( its been a while since I've seen that movie.

    AS for my writing, I have a flash drive full of junk,,, may just create one file and put it all in and label it "potential story plots ideas and characters."

    Love the new kitchen


    1. Debi, I have to agree with Weaver's logic--making a mess is far more fun than cleaning it up--and therein lies at least part of the problem; for me, at least.

  3. Drew - very interesting blog.

    In my transitional time from being married to becoming single again, I made the decision to not only put my very large (but beloved) house on the market in order to move back to Miami, but I also put everything I owned and didn't use on a daily basis, on the auction block too. Placed an ad on Craigslist, with photos and prices, and then added "lot bids accepted". Lo and hold, that afternoon I sold everything right down to the paper napkins. (really)

    To say that this was liberating is an understatement. What I did, however, was get rid of the "stuff" that I wasn't going to use, didn't want to clean and couldn't care less about and allowed me to move on without dragging the "junk" with me. It was cathartic and the reason I was able to start the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network without being bogged down. All my attention can now be focused on being the best I can be without all the clutter surrounding me.

    Getting rid of the "junk", editing my life, was a good thing, even for someone who is not a writer.

    Pam Stack

    1. Editing your life--I like that. Can I hire someone to do this for me?

  4. Once a month a charity will pick up donations. Amazingly, I can usually come up with a bag or two. You'd think that after awhile, I'd run out of things I no longer need.

    I'm editing now and need to be ruthless when it comes to getting rid of junk. Hopefully I can recognize it when I see it. If not, I'll have to rely on my beta readers and my editor.

    Nice post. Nice kitchen. (Love the lighting.)

    1. My kitchen was just the beginning. The clutter branches out from there like wildfire. You should see my exercise room. Oy.

  5. There's only one word to describe my junk Andrew: AAA. Adverb Adjective Anonymous. I suspect my editor will actually get on a plane from Boston and come kick my ass if I don't de-clutter my AA drawer for book 3. Having said that, Book 2 faired better than Book 1 in term of the dastardly AA affliction (ooohhhh, another triple A). I am trying VERY VERY hard for Book 3. BTW, I do apologise if the above junk statement sounded, er...dubious ;)

    And I love the kitchen. This is giving me ideas. I'm in the process of looking for a new home that I hope to do up!

  6. Your kitchen looks fabulous, Drew! And I'm sure your book will be equally wonderful when it comes out! You obviously know how to get rid of junk! Want to come tackle my basement?

  7. Love the kitchen! And your writing!

    It's amazing how fast things can accumulate and I'm not one who has a lot of "junk." I hate to shop. I hate to dust. And I hate to not have a spot for everything. And still, the junk will find it's way into my life.

    I loved your analogy to your writing. I'm editing my manuscript now (before I send it to my editor) and you just inspired me to look closer for the junk. Thanks, Drew.


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