I've been working my way through Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I almost always choose to read a book instead of clean or tidy anything, but Kondo's true passion (absolutely infectious) in this charming little guide inspired me to go through ALL of my stuff.
Step One: clothing. I had no problem tossing out old clothes, giving up a significant portion of my writing wardrobe (old, hole-y, but soft sweats).
Step Two: books. NOOOOOOO!!!!! I procrastinated this step for a couple of weeks, but now I love having space on my shelves for exciting new books. I really don't miss my old Russian language text books, out-dated writing industry books, really boring literary criticism. Or any of the other books that made me feel guilty for not wanting to read them.
Next I tackled Step Three. Papers.
Recycling manuals for appliances I no longer own felt great. Same for kiddie birthday party ideas that I'd cut out of magazines. I don't see any unicorn parties in my high school daughter's future. Old insurance policy papers? Out! This is easy!
But then I got to my writing papers.
Every short story I've ever written had its own file. Every novel I've written had its own file(s). Plus, hunky rubber-banded first drafts, second drafts, sixth drafts… My file drawers barely closed. My presentations had spilled into a different file cabinet: 30 (!) different talks in 30 (!) different folders.
All weekend I pretended that my home office didn't exist, and read a book I'd rediscovered in Step Two. On Monday I made myself face those overstuffed files.
The magazine market has changed dramatically since I first wrote all those short stories. Thankfully, so has my writing! Penning all those stories taught me about characters, plot, language--and the meaning of "ready for submission." I won't be sending any of them out again, so I simply saved one copy of each story and discarded its file, submission sheet, and other notes and correspondence. I do like to see how my writing has changed, and many of those stories reflect things from my daughters' childhood. But now they hang together in a "Retired Stories" folder in the back.
I tossed all but one copy of each unsold novel manuscript. Each is revised, so I don't need old marked up copies. I didn't need copies of queries to various editors and agents, many of whom are no longer working in the industry. I kept only the papers relevant to current submissions.
So many of the papers clogging my files aren't relevant to where I am right now in my writing career, so I recycled hundreds and hundreds of pages!
I realized while going through my presentations that they fall into four categories: generating ideas, nuts and bolts of writing, characters, and revision. I saved one handout from each talk.
I filled my giant recycling bin to the brim with my not-needed writing papers. Now I have space for all the new things I'll be creating and doing--and that feels exciting and, yes, a bit life-changing.