Tidying Up

Recently, I have been swept away by the tidal wave that is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a book by Marie Kondo that has worked its way through my circle of friends. Although I have to admit to skimming my way through this philosophical book about purging oneself of Things, the core principles have been incredibly helpful to me as I work my way through the vague and vast stash of stuff that I have and hold onto in my physical space.

According to Kondo, we should hold each object in our hands and have a tactile experience, asking ourselves whether this object brings us joy. I notice that she recommends us to ask this in the present tense. Does it bring joy to your life today (not just joy in reminiscence but a joy of the present and potentially the future).

As I began my own journey of dividing the items in my home into categories and working my way through them from least personal categories (for me, toiletries) to most personal categories (books and mementos), I held each item in my hands and asked: do you bring me joy?

At first it was easy, I emptied every junk drawer, every cabinet, even the nooks and crannies of my car and dumped the medications, toiletries, and personal care items into a pile. Little did I know what a repository I had!

As I worked my way through this category, toiletries, the easiest emotionally to sort through, I found myself relating this experience to my writing process.

I had been whittling away at my novel trying to reduce the word count and eliminate the extraneous, and at first it felt like a daunting pile of words, a massive story that could not be deconstructed easily into edits.

As I worked my way through chapter and scene, however, I found myself taking on a more critical and drastic approach to elimination inspired by Marie Kondo. As a writer, does this scene bring me joy? Does it contribute to the overall joy I feel about my story? (Not necessarily does the scene evoke a feeling of joy in the reader, rather does its contribute to the overall elements that make me feel joy/delight/pride as the author.)

Taking Kondo’s approach to tidying up (which was working well in my physical world), I began to carefully curate the scenes, words, dialogue, beats, moments in my story that made me feel proud of my writing and my book. The things that didn’t, I now felt compelled to toss out. The process became harder because certain scenes were more sentimental to me as the author. For example, I would stumble on a paragraph of backstory which sparked feelings in me as I remembered writing those words for the first time, they were part of the original draft. I remembered feeling good about those words appearing on the page. These words were not necessary and the shadow of joy that I experienced rereading them was a joy of the past, not of the present story and not of what I wanted the story to be. After thanking these words for their service to the writing process, I let them go. Cut.

This long and tedious process helped me find and weed out some space-sucking scenes, metaphorically the travel-size shampoo bottles that don’t seem to be in the way until you realize how many you have and how little they serve you. I began to discover a lightness, a breathability in my manuscript that I was also seeing in my physical world. As I learn to cure myself of word-hoarding, I find myself thinking that revision is science and art and maybe even a little bit of magic.