Monday, February 24, 2014

Does a Tidy Desk Mean a Tidy Mind?

Warning: the images in this post may be disturbing--especially if you like a tidy work environment.

This photo clearly shows I've recently cleaned up
Today I thought I'd share the mess that is my office. I clean up my work area once every 4-6 months depending on whether the piles of papers and notes threaten to topple, or if I want to avoid writing, then I tell myself that cleaning my desk is justifiable. I'm still doing something toward my writing, right?

For a while I bought into the saying that an untidy desk reflects an untidy mind. So out of embarrassment, I'd clean up. Funny thing was any chaos I might've been harbouring didn't suddenly disappear. On seeing a clean desk, no clear skies came rolling in and no golden ta-da moment of inspiration struck. My mind is a chaotic soup of what-ifs, doubts, crazy worlds, and weird characters. No clean desk is going to change that. (Or maybe I'm just used to the mess so it's no longer a distraction).

After doing some reading, I discovered that an untidy desk often enables creative types. “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” according to Dr Vohs, a behavioural scientist at the University of Minnesota. I like the sound of that! But that's me. How about you?
This desk would be messier if I had more room
Does a clean desk or work area make a difference to the way you work or think?

I've continued the discussion in the IWSG Facebook group as well. Feel free to pop on over and post a pic of your area.

IWSG news: Today, Alex J Cavanaugh has a guest post at How to Write Shop, talking about the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Please pop on over and support our awesome group, or find out more about the group.



119 comments:

  1. My desk looks much the same as yours. I think they're related.

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    1. third cousins of fourth cousins twice removed...

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  2. Mine usually has one stack of papers to the side, but for the most part is clear. I guess I'm just not creative!

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    1. lol, I think we can debunk the generalised theory ;)

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  3. I guess it does make a difference, but it depends on what is 'messing up' my office. If the clutter on my desk is related to my current work, then no. However, when people aka family members decide to use my office as their no-man's-land for household items they can't seem to find a place for I tend to feel frazzled, anxious, and a bit lost. Those are the days that usually send me over the edge into a cleaning frenzy.

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  4. My desk and office area are full, but uncluttered. I wouldn't be able to find anything if it was a mess. I'm just naturally organized.

    And I have two computers on my desk, too!

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    1. It's actually one computer (a laptop), hooked up to a second monitor (24 inch--gotta love working with two screens), and a wacom tablet (for my art).

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  5. I don't have a desk because I write on my couch but if I did have one I know it would look just like this. :D

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    1. Oh, I write on my couch too ;) Depends on the mood.

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  6. Yes, I can relate! Once a month I have to purge!

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  7. My notebooks are organized. My desk is a mess and makes yours look super orderly. For some reason I can work that way. I, too, clean up every few months, but it takes approximately half a day for it to rearrange itself into the disorderly mess again. Pixies? Imps? You tell me . . .

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    1. My vote is for pixies. And half a day is about right ;)

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  8. Well...I usually work on my floor. So I'm not sure what that says about me. ;)

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    1. I used to be a floor person, then I got an awesome couch.

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  9. I usually let it be fairly untidy (notes all over, mostly for my current WIP) while I'm working, and then I surface every few months/half a year like you do and tidy up. If it's TOO cluttered, I can't think, but I like my "things" around me as I write.

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    1. Yep, too much clutter becomes a distraction, but the definition of 'too much' depends on my mental state ;)

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  10. Replies
    1. You want to disown me as a friend now, don't you ;)

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  11. I have to say I feel much better once I get my desk cleared. Although usually it involves stuffing everything into a drawer and forgetting about it.

    mood
    Moody Writing

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    1. Ah, but think of the wonderful discoveries you'd make years down the track when you open those drawers ;)

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  12. I think it's not important how your work space looks as long as it, you know, works. :)

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  13. I always find clean desk tops terrifying! I like my piles of things and know where everything is. If someone cleaned it for me I'd never find a thing :)

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    1. I don't mind clean, but empty is the scary thing. Not sure what it is about clutter that I like when it comes to desks, because I don't like a cluttered house.

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  14. My work area is messy. But it's messy with things I use all the time. I figure if I make my bed and do the dishes every day, the Organization Gods should be appeased. :)

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    1. you make your bed AND do the dishes!!! Like, every day???? When do you have time to write?!!?!!!! ;)

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  15. My work area is tidy. (Only because I got a new desk for Christmas and haven't had a chance to pile lots of stuff on it yet!) I don't know if I need a tidy area to work, but cleaning does help clear my mind and helps me focus.

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    1. I think I only clean when I'm procrastinating...

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  16. A messy or a tidy desk is a personal choice, with either being a good choice if the fingers fly at the keyboard. As for me, I can't think if there's too much stuff around. However, hub's the opposite.

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    1. That would make for an interesting household ;)

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  17. I like a tidy desk. Although sometimes no matter how hard I try, work gets backed up. I just make sure to clean it out weekly.

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    1. Yep, sometimes it's inevitable. At least, that's the conclusion I've come to.

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  18. I'm a little OCD about my desk and keeping organized. The thing is, I'm often balancing far more than I can handle, and if it's not all in its place, I go a little crazy (or, more crazy...). That's not to say that there aren't things out, but they must be in neat piles and out for a purpose. Yeah, I'm a little neurotic about it, lol!

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    1. Nothing wrong about being neurotic. If it works for you then that's awesome.

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  19. I like organization. However, when I'm deep into my writing I become very disorganized. Little stubs of papers litter around my computer with essential gestures or sayings or words I've uncovered that would add to my ms. After I finish the ms, I tend to gather the papers and throw them out, then start anew.

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    1. I have a whiteboard to stick all those papers to (or mostly), otherwise I lose them. But they still manage to clutter up my desk! How does that happen!! ;)

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  20. Hi Lynda. We can justify anything to ourselves, can't we? I think a lot depends on our personalities. I can't do much unless I have a tidy environment.

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    1. I used to be the same, but now, meh. (at least, when it comes to my desk)

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  21. Pffft i am a bit ocd and my desk is as clean as can be. i can work in either one though as i let things flow

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  22. I like your desk, because there's more space to write on it than mine. One reason I write in cafes regularly is because I don't like my messy desk (and my even messier apartment). I try to keep it neat, but being a grad student and an English teacher means I've always got books and papers cluttering my desk.

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    1. When I'm writing a first draft (long hand), then I'm everywhere but at my desk. And when I was studying, I was like you with related books and papers everywhere.

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  23. I think it's all dependent on how OCD you are... for me, I just need the clutter gone for my elbows :)

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  25. A tidy desk means no work has been done, atleast that happens in my case. My desk is so untidy, that a lizard can hide there for days ;)

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  26. I still live with my parents and if I posted a picture of my room my mom would kill me. Cleanest space is my work area which happens to be my bed. Yes if you read my fun bio last year you'd remember where I work. In fact I am borrowing my father's work laptop right now and you guessed it, typing on my bed. Your work space works for you and I know when I finally get a 'real one' it won't stay neat either. Also I remember almost tidying my room completely once then spending two days searching for my favourite comb. The one with the big teeth that gets through my hair when I'm not creaming it. But when I do it also flows through it like a dream. OK I'm way off topic, to sum up as long as your work space works for you it is fine. Neat doesn't always mean creativity or accomplishment. There are loads of lazy neat people. They just want a neat space to be lazy in.

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    1. Yes!! My mum used to insist I tidy my room when I was still living at home. I'd inevitably lose all sorts of items. At least in the mess I knew where to find things.

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  27. My desk is frequently messy and requires a delicate balancing act to get near. And that's just the way I like it <3 ^_^ Tidiness doesn't really come naturally to me.

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    1. That's right, own the chaos!! Love it :)

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  28. I don't even HAVE a desk. It's my laptop & whatever section of table / couch isn't being hogged by the kids. :)

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    1. Maybe that's a good thing, considering the potential mess generator that is a desk.

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  29. I definitely tend to the tidy end of the spectrum, I do however have a spot or two that I can just throw things and let them pile up. Guess I get the best of both worlds.

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    1. Yep, sometimes those spots are necessary.

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  30. I can function only in tidy and clean surroundings, the dirt and mess drain my energy. That goes for the kitchen too :) I loved everything surgically clean :)

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    1. I love a clean and tidy house, but it's a different story when it comes to my work area (as you can see). I get a little crazy if the rest of the house is cluttered.

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    2. Im like Monica from FRIENDS, if I come over and see the mess in your house I will offer to clean it up for you :)

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    3. I'd probably accept!! Maybe I'd even pay you in champagne. ;)

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    4. I don't do champagne :) but this little coon could be easily bribed with some bagels, scones and other savoury baked goodies :)

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    5. oh! The reply button is working again!!
      I've never tried to make bagels or scones before, but I can make savory triangles.

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  31. My desk is relatively neat, but the rest of my office isn't - I've got piles of papers and notes on a table, all kinds of stuff hidden in my desk drawers and in my office closet. I do go through things a few times a year, and I love that uncluttered and organized feeling…while it lasts. :)

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    1. Oddly enough. I love that uncluttered organised feeling too. It just doesn't last long and I'm often too busy writing to reorganise.

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  32. I like being tidy, but can be a it of a slob at heart. Just a cluttered slob, though. Not like dirty dishes from three days ago slob.

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    1. The concept of tidiness is a wonderful thing... but it takes time and depends on priority. Tidy up or write? I know which one I'd choose the majority of the time.

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  33. I like being tidy, and am a perfectionist in precision!

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

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    1. Maybe you could hire yourself out to people like me ;)

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  34. For a minute I thought you'd sneaked into my office and taken a photo! If a desk symbolizes what's going on in my mind, I'm in serious trouble. However, it seems as if I have company. :-)

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    1. hehehe. We should start a group: Cluttered Desks United

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  35. My workspace is a disaster. It collects everything--the kids' school papers, mail, bills, Advil (lol), and tons of other assorted items!

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    1. omgosh, if I put bills on my desk, they'd disappear for months and I'd get late payment notices. ;)

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  36. My desk is horribly messy. In fact, the last time it got a clean up was November. My brother and sister-in-law were visiting and the whole house got a facelift... inc. my desk. It is now back to piles of paper and a general feeling of haphazardness. I feel better about that given that "creative types" often are not the tidiest of sorts. I should be EXTREMELY CREATIVE by the looks of my workspace.

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    1. Creativity is a good cause to be messy for. ;)

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  37. It's hard for me to create unless my workspace is tidy. Helps me stay focused.

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    1. I sometimes get that way too, particularly if I'm struggling with a scene then the mess becomes a distraction.

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  38. I'm organized, but you'd never know by the mess around me. I know exactly were everything is. I've cleaned up my desk and lost things. So having it all out where I can put my hands on it is how I like it.

    That said, at first glance, anyone might think I'm disorganized. :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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    1. That's a good point! There is definitely order in the chaos.

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  39. Personally, I can't find anything if I keep my desk clean

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    1. I have the same problem. Out of sight, out of mind. ;)

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  40. My desk may look messy, but I know precisely where everything is.

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  41. I'm messy while I'm working, but once I've finished a project, I have to clean off and straighten. Sometimes it gets too messy for me while I'm working and I have to stop and clear off. Usually that's because the added paper relates to other projects I need to do, and I can't focus on fiction because I know something else needs attention.

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    1. Actually yes, that's one of the triggers to tidy up--when I'm about to start a new project.

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  42. I need a tidy place, otherwise I get easy distracted and start to sort through it. All I need is a, hum what should I write next moment and see a stack of papers...then I'm going through them!

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    1. yep, mess can be distracting. When it's like that it's definitely time to tidy up.

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  43. Both my desk at the day job and the desk at home are fairly tidy. Only some things might be askew. I need it tidy or else I'll keep worrying about losing things or that my space will become messier if I don't do something about it. It's peace of mind before I get to work.

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    1. I love how everyone works differently. I think it also changes for everyone over time too, because I have in the past needed that tidiness for peace of mind.

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  44. I personally get distracted and annoyed if my workplace isn't tidy. At the very least, I need to know where everything is. So I guess I could work under orderly chaos/chaotic order. But ultimately, I'd rather it be clean. What helps me is visual stimulus, so colourful pictures and posters and whatnot on the walls, and a bookshelf full of books with their spines facing out at me somewhere nearby.

    Thanks for sharing this, Lynda! :)

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    1. There's nothing more inspirational than being surrounded by books :)

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  45. I clean my desk for company... and sometimes, not then.

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    1. company does make a good motivation for tidying ;)

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  46. LOL. I talked about this just the other day. I can't write when I have a clean desk--and it only lasts about 10 seconds anyway. Blame that on the kids who are constantly piling things in my lap if you like, but it definitely leads to creativity on my part.

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  47. I need all my chaos around me to think properly!

    Nas

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  48. Oh god, it's absolute chaos around my desk. And I don't know if it's because I actually work better this way, or if I'm too lazy to fix things up.

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    1. Definitely say it coz you work better ;)

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  49. I don't have a desk. I work on a laptop on my lap surrounded by books, papers, pens,cups, etc. I enjoy have a clean home (but who has the time) but my workspace needs to be as is, otherwise I have to go rooting through tidy piles for things. The chaos is ordered, sort of :)

    shahwharton.com

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    1. In the winter I work with a laptop on my lap, but in summer it gets way too hot.

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  50. Yes! A tidy desk is very important for a writer...and mine is sooo untidy.

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  51. I prefer a tidy work space. It helps me think better. My daughter, on the other hand, can't stand order. The messier the better! It's the only way she can work.

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  52. Aside from my well-placed horde of action figures, my desk is very tidy. I think I'm a tidy-minded writer. I organize very well and plan everything. The only problem is, not everything goes according to plan. :/

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  53. Hey Lyn,

    Sorry to come by late, been awhile since my last post. UGH. Just you wait, my pretty. You want to see an awful space? I'm doing a remodel of my workspace for Nutschell's Wednesday Writer's Workspace on March 26 and you'll see all the terrible befores and the beautiful afters (at least I hope they're beautiful...not quite finished yet).

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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    1. I'm looking forward to it!!!
      (The reply button seems to be working again Yay!)

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  54. First thing in the morning I organise my workplace, wipe it down while the computer is firing up. So yes, I prefer neat places.

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  55. An untidy desk does not reflect an untidy mind, Lynda. I'm the kind of person who can only do one thing at a time. (Okay, I'm a guy. You got me there.), meaning if the desk is clean, my mind's a mess and the other way around. ;) I do prefer a tidy desk though.

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    1. Oh, I prefer a tidy desk too. I just don't have time to unclutter. (Or so I tell myself)

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  56. At work, I stop and clean the mess as a way of distracting myself. At home, I've shut the piles of paper in a drawer where I can't see them. The mess only seems to affect me when I need to take my mind off something I should be doing.

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    1. Yep, cleaning is a GREAT distraction.
      It seems we are quite similar. :)

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  57. Untidy desks are what nature intended, I think. At least based on the desks I've had over the years (since first grade). I only clean mine when it gets covered by more than two layers of debris. Or I can't find my manuscript.

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    1. lol, yep. More than two layers starts getting unmanageable. ;)

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I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.