Alright, time for me to jump on the bandwagon almost a little too late, but I had to do a lot of thinking with this.
If you’ve lived under a rock for the past, at least month, let me explain Marie Kondo. Well, her style of cleaning because I personally don’t know Marie Kondo. She seems sweet.
Marie Kondo wrote the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I find the title funny because it is the least tidied up title I’ve ever seen, but I digress. She has this mantra of only keeping things you need or that sparks joy. And as of this month, she has a show on Netflix called Tidying up with Marie Kondo where she comes into people’s homes and helps them declutter.
I’m not the biggest fan of the Marie Kondo style of cleaning. I like a good chunk of what she’s saying and I do apply it more to my daily life which has definitely helped (I’ve used it on friendships and social interactions and it lifted burdens I didn’t even know I had). For the things I’m not a fan of, I have various reasons for, but none are the misrepresentation of Marie suggesting we only keep 30 books. She, personally, only keeps 30 books. To each their own.
But I do believe she has some strong points in the world of letting go which is a world that writers don’t like to visit. We don’t like letting go plot points, characters, that perfectly crafted line that you basically put in your bio on twitter because damn it was good.
Declutter, let go, Marie Kondo that novel. Or my version of Marie Kondo-ing (I just made a woman’s name a verb) a novel.
Step One: Do basic editing for grammar and spelling.
Ignore if scenes don’t make sense. Ignore your inner editor wanting to gut the entire middle section. This is like the normal person’s general cleaning before deciding to get organized. You can’t dump your entire closet on your bed to organize if your bed has other junk on it. You feel?
Step Two: Rewrite an outline of your novel.
I know, you’ve already finished your book. Why would you need an outline? It’s to remind you of your novel’s structure and even if you never had an outline in the first place (I see you pantsers), it will help you reconnect with the plot, the characters, and the purpose of your novel. Document the main plot points that you need/want to get across, and then fully document any side plots. Every novel has side plots, you need to determine which are important for your novel. Romantic subplots, friendships, side character interactions, etc. Maybe you have a main character who is in high school, and while school may not be the main plot, it’s definitely a subplot that’s important to keep track of.
If need be, create a main outline for your plot and then create mini outlines for your subplots. Then highlight, color code, or find any way to indicate main points.
Step Three: Literally highlight those main points.
Go through your entire novel and highlight the points that actually fit your outline. This could be just highlighting a chapter title or a paragraph or a line. Do this for your main plot as well as your subplot. You might have to reread a few times.
Step Four: List your characters and why they’re important.
This is like the “putting everything in one place” step that Marie Kondo starts with. I want to know how important each character is. You might need to read through your own novel to find every character, named and unnamed. Then list why they’re important.. You might find that you have a character that only has one job through the entire novel and technically, a different character could have done it. I do this all the time. I throw so many characters in that don’t really matter just because I pantsed it. Rewrite those characters and scenes and continue.
Step Five: The first and last chapter.
In my opinion, these are the two most important chapters. You have to hook the reader in the first, and leave them wanting more with the last. I’ve read too many novels that the last chapter is just…eh. I skim through it, already knowing that there’s nothing left and sometimes feel disappointed because of it.
So answer two questions for chapter one: does it grab the reader? Would chapter two (with some editing) be a better chapter one? I’ve written first chapters that are just info dumps to get me going. Writing is hard. Sometimes you have to write crap in the first few pages to get anywhere. Then I just highlight the important parts of one and drop it into chapter two.
And for the last chapter: does the reader feel satisfied after finishing this chapter? Does it create any other strong feelings? Does it tie up loose ends that no one cares about? Do you need it at all?
Step Six: Chapter by chapter
Now is the time to ask “does this spark joy” but in the “does this fit my intended goal with this novel” way. Of course there are scenes that can spark joy because they flow so beautifully, but they might not work so well for the overarching plot.
Look at your highlighted sections, see how they work together with the scenes in between. Determine which scenes fit and spark joy, which need some mending, and which need to go to goodwill. Don’t delete this text, put all of this in a different document. I know that’s technically not throwing out, but it’s digital work. Word documents take up minute space, and until you’re completely done and satisfied with your novel, do not throw away any of your work.
Step Seven: Repeat any step you feel necessary.
Keep revising until you’re satisfied. Go back and add scenes or rewrite sections and then start this process over to see if it really works.
Hopefully this helps you with your big editing plans, or at least gives you a different perspective after hours of red pen edits. Writing is hard. Editing is harder. But I believe you got this.
Even if you refuse to Marie Kondo anything.
Let me know in the comments below if you tried this technique or how you might do it different. And if you’ve done any Marie Kondo style cleaning in your life.