How to Marie Kondo your creativity

What happens when you lay your creative work out on the bed, hanger upon hanger, sweater upon mismatched sock?

I’m not talking about the whole of your creativity, just the part you’ve expressed in some tangible form—all the stories,  paintings, set designs, half-finished orchestral scores, and that one note on a napkin about the couple in the coffee shop. I wonder what happens if you hold and thank each item, let go of the ones that don’t bring you joy, and store the rest in a way that truly serves your creative life going forward.

To tidy a home, Marie Kondo works a category at a time: clothing, books, etc. So that’s where I’m going to start. For my creative work, the categories are Writing, Teaching, Submissions, Films & Audio.

Day 1. Writing.

Each category also gets two subcategories: Digital and Physical. Let’s start with digital writing.

Step 1. Lay out your digital writing on the bed.

To do this, I opened my local drive and my Dropbox to display all my documents on my big iMac screen. What a mess—a motley assortment of inconsistently named files, some organized in folders, others loose.

lots of file windows on the screen
What a mess.

A challenging thing about digital writing is that often there isn’t one final, unchangeable version of a piece. Even if a play has been produced, you might continue to tinker with it, thereby creating new versions of the file. For stories, you might have one tailored to live performance, and another to submit to literary journals.

And even when you have a “perfect” draft, what about all the previous ones? Part of me wants to delete them, so I have just one file per play or story. If some scene or line got cut along the way, I probably don’t need it, right?

But then I remember my first playwriting teacher, the late Fred Gaines, saying that at a certain point you should go back to the first draft of a piece, to reengage with your original idea, before you “perfected” it. That’s one of the most useful pieces of writing advice I’ve ever heard. As you change and grow as a writer, you might come back to an early draft and see it differently, a process that could take you in a different, more exciting direction.

Then again, you don’t need to keep every single version of every file. Sometimes that feels too heavy. Argh, how to decide? Luckily, we have a plan that supports making the keep-or-toss decision quickly and decisively. 

Step 2. Create a beautiful storage cabinet.

This is one main folder that will hold all of this type of creative output. I’ve created a folder called Writing. Unlike one of my old folders, WRITING, it’s not in all caps, and suddenly I like it better. I created it in my main Dropbox folder so it’s accessible from everywhere.

We’ll build shelves for this beautiful cabinet in a minute. First, we need to make it easy to toss what we don’t want.

Step 3. Create a Compost bin.

This is a folder named zzzCompost (the zzz keeps it at the bottom of the folder list). This is where you toss files that don’t bring you joy, but it’s better than your computer’s trash bin.

In a month or a year, you can open zzzCompost and pull something that sparks your interest (watch out for worms), or you can make permanent deletions. For now, it allows you to remove files and folders with abandon. One of the perks of digital writing is that it doesn’t take up much space, so you can afford a nice big zzzCompost bin.

Step 4. Create another bin for ideas you haven’t written yet.

I called this zzUnassigned so it sits just above the Compost bin. This is for ideas and web links and anything else that’s interesting but hasn’t found a home yet. I like the name Unassigned because it makes those ideas feel important. They are wanted and valuable, they just haven’t been given a mission yet. 

Step 5. Create a limited number of shelves in your cabinet.

Each shelf is a subfolder for one type of creative work. I experimented a lot here. First I tried detailed subfolders like 10-Minute Plays, Full-length Plays, Stories for Performing, Stories for Reading. But this gave me too many shelves. So I ended up with something much simpler: one folder for each medium, like Plays, plus my two bins.  

Step 6. Hold each document...

In your mind’s eye. Thank and release the ones that don’t bring you joy. Remember you’re just moving them to the zzzCompost folder, so this doesn’t need to take forever. 

Step 7. For each piece you keep, create a folder, place all drafts of that piece in it, and move the folder onto a shelf.

From all 57 drafts of your novel to 1 draft of a one-minute play, each piece gets a folder. Otherwise, files get crumpled in dark corners instead of standing up in neat vertical folds. A folder also gives you a great place to put notes, research, and anything else  related to the writing of this piece.

If you’re not already using a consistent file-naming system, now would be a great time to start. I’ve started naming my files—for example, Bolshoi Bathtub.021619. If the piece is a related document, reflect that as well—eg, Bolshoi Bathtub.cut scenes.021619. I’m not going back and renaming everything, but going forward this makes the contents of each folder easier to survey.

a neat folder hierarchy.
The After. Much better.

Next up: Physical Writing.

To complete the Writing category, I have to tackle the physical stuff—all the binders, papers, books, and stapled pieces of writing crowding my bookcases and table tops. I might even pile them on a real bed.

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