I like organizing stuff. Words, sentences, paragraphs…closets. So when the Marie Kondo craze came about, I watched a few episodes of her show, nodding along the whole time, and I, too, felt that sense of relief with the homeowners at the end, at having just what they need, right where they need it.
Over the holidays, with my first novel finally making it through the copyediting stage and sent off to design, I turned my attention to an idea I had for a new picture book. Now, the idea stage is messy as can be, for me. I spend hours typing everything I have to say about the topic, including some phrases that may end up in the actual book, but mostly just notes. For this particular book, I ended up with 25 pages of typed notes before I sat down to attempt to carve out a book from it. Other writers do things differently, but I start with a mess, and find order. Problem is, all I had over the holidays, given my limited work hours with everyone at home, was the mess. I tried a few different things, but the book just refused to come together.
I’ve learned when this happens not to force it. I’ve forced a few manuscripts and they ended up not going anywhere besides my hard drive. I’ve got to step away and do something else, preferably something with my hands that will allow me time to think (sometimes I manage to work out plot issues this way). If you’ve read any other blog posts of mine, you know I enjoy redecorating (pics of my son’s redecorated bedroom coming soon!).
But, I needed a mini-project for the holiday break. Enter my husband’s closets. We have two, very small walk-in closets in our bedroom. One is about ¾ mine and ¼ his. The other is my office. These cool, wooden lockers bought on Craigslist are where he stores the majority of his everyday work clothes. But, he hadn’t sorted a thing in many, many years. There were a lot of clothes in there that needed to be donated or tossed because they didn’t fit or were too worn or because he just flat out didn’t like them anymore. It drove me crazy when I opened one and stuff would fall on me!
So, one fine day after Christmas, he agreed to see what, using Marie Kondo’s phrase, “sparked joy.” I helped him sort things into piles, and he ended up donating at least half of his clothing! What’s left are things he loves, that fit him, which makes getting ready in the morning easier and more enjoyable. Did he ask for this closet reorganization? No. Is he glad we did it? Sort of. It is not “life-changing,” as he puts it, and though he didn’t mind doing it, I definitely enjoyed the process more than him.
I realize I may be a little bit (a lot) strange. I realize not everyone loves taking a favorite red pen to a manuscript and taking out one sentence, which changes the entire book. That’s what I was doing last week, when, after the kids were back in school and after sitting with my ideas for awhile, I suddenly knew how to make my new picture book manuscript sing.
Once I get a solid draft on the screen, I print it out and attack it with my pen. I make a bunch of changes. I print out a new version the next day and go through it again. This takes several days, and each day I find a way to make it tighter, cleaner, clearer. Remember, I started with 20+ pages of what would turn out to be a 700 word book. With each little bit I carved away, the story emerged. Not so different from culling unwanted clothing and figuring out which shelf the socks should go on. Really! It’s not so different. That process of deduction is still at work and there’s still that a-ha moment of finding the perfect space for something, whether a phrase or a tie.