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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Your Novel.

life-changing tidying Feb 03, 2019
life-changing magic tidying novels

The KonMari Method For Writers.

I love a good edit. I love how close that word is to tidy.

Here's how my novel seems to me to be after the first draft.

Here's how I like to think of my manuscript after The Big Edit at second draft:


The second draft is light years ahead of the first - it is organized as a story.

The story has drama! Light and shade. A villain with a purpose and a stumbling heroine or hero. A theme - as in something I am going to damn well prove to be true. This should be there at first draft, and it was, but it was crummy. Now it's looking like I mean business. The layering of rewriting fattens the chapters and their content should hit the reader with impact, images and ideas, forthright pronouncements, deceit, conflict, lies, desires are regulated in the second draft to propel the heroine towards facing her mortal condition, and working out how to use the time she has here on this earth.

Thanks to a dose of Sophocles' Theban Plays and Shakespeare's Hamlet last week I raised the stakes in terms of drama in my novel, but this week I've buddied up spiritually with the diminutive obsessive Marie Kondo to school myself in the art of tidying.

I'm not alone!

“Everyone ... is either Kondoing or getting Kondoed this weekend,” the writer Elizabeth Harper observed on Twitter.

The side effects have proven beneficial to my editing process.

I've worked on the manuscript in the morning in my secluded distraction-free lair, attended to my writers in the afternoon and evening and in between I've been mimicking tidying at home. 

'Our goal is to help more people tidy their spaces by choosing joy, and we are committed to developing the simplest and most effective tools to help you get there.' Marie Kondo.

Our goal at The Novelry is to help writers find the joy of writing by using our process and tools to write to publishing standard. 

The parallels between the method are pleasing especially when you're editing the first draft you created on the Ninety Day Novel course, one of our online creative writing courses.

Marie Kondo tells us that only two skills are necessary for tidying your home:

"The ability to keep what sparks joy and chuck the rest, and the ability to decide where to keep each thing you choose and always put it back in its place."

You will need these abilities to sort through the material you created at first draft and find it's perfect place according to the new and improved story outline you create in our Editing course.

Tidying, Marie Kondo tells us, is the act of 'confronting yourself.'

This is so true for writing too, at first draft but even more so at second and deciding what stays and goes and where it goes asks probing questions of the story and the author. You discover all sorts of unwholesome and very useful truths. Assign these discoveries to the characters of your hero and villain and drive conflict to recharge your story. You'll soon find the two halves of yourself in flagrant bare-knuckle confrontation in your work.

Pick the top three items in the pile that give you joy, she says about discarding material.

Ok. Go on. When you're about to rewrite, pick the top three items in your plot that give you joy. Three you go. Revise that novel around them!

Keep the things you wear close to your heart in prime position, she advises.

"I encourage you to treat your bras like royalty."

It's the same with a novel. A novel's story can from a single idea which touches my heart. You keep that initial cherished idea sacrosanct.

Choose the writing that "Sparks Joy".

'Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go.' Marie Kondo.

Marie Kondo recommends that people only keep items that “spark joy” (an English rendering of the Japanese “tokimeki,” a word for excitement or palpitation).

Does this sentence spark joy? Yes, then it's a keeper. Does it feel like I've outgrown it? Yes, bin it. That's how it should it be with your paragraphs. One striking thought or visual.


I've enjoyed the instructions on ordering your items of joy, from light at the front of a drawer to dark at the rear. From heavy at the foot of your shelves to light at the top. Now it seems to me that if you're writing a thriller you will want to order your chapters from light to dark in terms of mood. The opposite if you're writing comedy or feel-good fiction. This makes structuring chapters pretty simple.

Folding Your Work.

I have been folding my chapters in threes. Admittedly I decided to apply this structure before I began to 'kondo'.

I find that I have to shoehorn the first draft into a new structure at second draft and this gives me new control over the material. A harmonious façade is the result of a stringent underpinning of structure. I'll give myself a format for the chapters, and a word count. You don't have too! (Tools NOT rules at The Novelry) But it helps me enormously and unleashes a new level of creativity and imaginative prose.

I've been folding my prose into neat sentences too and turning them around to make sure they're easy for the reader to access. Let the reader dive into the meaning, then pull her or him up short by having them hold the words in their hands. Sentences of a manageable size. At The Novelry I show you that the majority of writers keep them at an average of under 20 words a sentence. A long sentence depresses you the moment you look at it, and the reader too. So fold it neatly.

'Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long.' Kurt Vonnegut.

First Chapter Average Word Counts:
The Sun Also Rises - Hemingway 15.16 words per sentence
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn - 14.03
Disgrace - JM Coetzee 12.87 
Slaughterhouse-5 - Kurt Vonnegut 12.94
Harry Potter and The Sorceror's Stone - JK Rowling 11.43
Fat - Raymond Carver 9.25
A Man Called Ove - Frederik Backman 7.33

I have always worked intuitively, at every stage, and if I have felt a scene just wasn't doing it for me, I've either cut it, added a rogue element of mischief, had someone behave unexpectedly or say something true, thrown in something touching or beautiful, or lost it entirely. Now I can say it's about sparking joy. This doesn't mean making the work lighter, not at all. But we all know as writers when an idea, a visual or a conversation captured in prose sparks joy, and I think joy is such a universally commonly understood thing - rather more common than taste - that it's a good rule of thumb. The point is not to be clever but cunning, to spark joy. To create a smile, wink, nod, or raise the reader's heartbeat. If it ain't doing any of that, cut it.

In the courses I ask my writers to consider 'passing sentence' this way:

1.Is it necessary?
2.Is it accurate and true?
3.Is it scintillating?
4.Has it never been said this way before?
5.Can I say it shorter?

Now I think we may agree that 'scintillating' means that it sparks joy in you the writer, and here I place my palms together and thank Marie Kondo.

As you tidy your novel as you go along, passing through the midpoint and heading towards a showdown ('fury' we call it) then acceptance ('facing it' in The Novelry's Five F's of plot), you can fully expect to experience what Ms Kondo calls "steadily rising joy."

This is why I don't wish you luck when I sign off in my emails to you. You don't need it. You need method and joy. It makes me gasp that so many writers find writing miserable! It's not. It's great, or it should be if you're doing it right! So I always sign off - happy writing.

How To Become A Published Writer.

The process we offer writers at The Novelry is designed to shorten the odds of getting a publishing deal, dramatically.  Here's how.

1. You take our Ninety Day Novel to write the novel or you begin with the Classic course if you have world-building ambitions for your book. (That way, I know and our fellow members will know you have got the basics covered and gone way beyond. That level of proficiency is crucial. Many of my writers say the course has developed their writing more than taking an MA and one has told me it's been more helpful than her PhD. But the point is the courses are not textbook, they are intensely practical. You become 'a writer' from day one and the course has you walk the talk by writing like a writer on a daily basis for 90 days until a habit is set.)

2. You finish your first draft. YIPPEE ... but wait, soft, what noise is that? It's is the marching band of the second draft, coming over yonder hill. Sit back and relax for a month or so to get some perspective and become your first reader. Read good books.

3. Now you can look for the story in your book. Take the Editing Course to find yours and nail the plot and write a second draft.

4. When that's done, pop your synopsis and first three chapters - which constitutes the regular submissions package sent to agents - into our live 24/7 Members Lodge. Await kindly feedback. You will get feedback from a large body of experience and wisdom. 

5. Got feedback? If you've taken our Ninety Day Novel course and joined The Big Edit, this is where you get more constructive feedback from your tutor who works with you to submit for you to our agent friends. Vouched for this way, your work will be fast-tracked. The literary agents who work with us promise to VIP pass our members' work and reply within 1 - 2 weeks.

This is how we shorten the odds of you getting published and enjoying literary success sooner rather than later.

You gotta have a process when you're serious about joy. Ask Marie Kondo.

Happy writing 


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