KonMari Your Way to a Book
I pride myself on being a pretty organized person, but I’d left my writing work in disarray when I focused on a career in software back in 2008. Some of my most prized work was tucked into old journals, swimming on unlabeled flash drives, or lost to an online diary from my teens. Lesson number one, take good care of any content you create even if you think you’ll never use it. Leveraging existing content is always easier than starting fresh.
With a layer of guilt for how I’d stored my life’s work, I began to slowly and carefully KonMari my way towards a collection of poetry ready for publication. Here are the steps I took to turn chaos into a first draft and how anyone could revamp past content for new release.
Step 1: Make a List
The literal first step I took towards Leap was writing a list of all the places my poetry was stored. Much like a hoarder, I had an idea of where all my verse was, but if I was hit by a bus, all that work would undoubtedly by lost forever. Here is what the initial list looked like:
Journals – roughly twenty journals from my middle school years through my thirties, all stored in various places around my house.
Online diary – for the uninitiated and those with more interesting social lives, online diaries were the rage in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Before social media was called social media, I had a circle of friends and followers on a site called Open Diary that shut down in 2014. Open Diary revived itself on January 26th 2018 and all my past entries and the commentary was available to me anew (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Diary).
Email – when I was no longer focused on writing and started working full time, I rarely kept a journal with me and so relied on email to jot down ideas, poems, and thoughts whenever the mood struck. Unfortunately, my past-self did not create an email folder for all these snippets to live and so I’m positive there is a fully formed poem in my mailbox that I was never able to track down.
College and High School Files – In high school and college, I did a much better job of organizing my writing, probably because I used the work regularly in Lit. Mag. (an after school club where other writers critique each other’s work and published a monthly magazine) and for creative writing classes. The only issue here is that my poems often appeared in several versions. I’d find the original scratched out in a journal, another draft in a Word document, and the final printed out and graded by a graduate student.
Phone Notes – Perhaps the oddest, but most practical storage place for my poetry was my phone’s note app. I’m rarely without my phone and so this app proved to be the most convenient and accessible place to jot down poems or thoughts as they came to me. I also regularly re-visit poems on this app and edit them there.
Looking back at the mess that was my literary career, I’m astonished that I was able to get it all organized. But that leads to the next step.
Step 2: Pick One Storage Spot
For the next step, I set up a designated storage area in the cloud. This was an ideal storage place as it allowed me to reference my files from my phone, iPad, or computer and ensured that even if a device went down, my files wouldn’t be lost. I reviewed my writing in all of the above places and moved everything into this master file system. This included typing up poems only present in journals, copying items from online diary entries, and moving my library of poetry notes to Word. If you’re attempting a similar process for your work, it’s important to see this stage as a gathering process, not an editing process. Don’t get hung up on what each poem or prose piece looks like or that obvious spelling mistake in the title. You’ll tackle all those bits later, the goal here is to store your work in a safe place.
Step 3: Select Your Items
Next, I reviewed my work to determine what I might want to include it in a poetry book. Please note the use of the word “might” in that sentence. I recommend casting a wide net during this stage. I included half written poems, prose that I hoped I could turn into poems, and even snippets of phrases I found interesting. Think of this step as gathering the materials to create your end product. I knew the next step would involve lots of edits, rewrites, and new poems, but bringing all the raw content together gave me an idea of how much work I had left before I’d have a fully edited book.
At the end of these three steps I had discovered years of lost content, safely stored everything for future use, and compiled a first draft of a poetry book over 120 pages in length. Incidentally, this was the moment when I was sure a poetry book was totally possible. Poetry books are usually between 80 and 200 or so pages, so I was well within the sweet spot of a viable book and well past only publishing a chap book. Staring at a file of over fifteen years of work brought tangibility to what was previously a pipe dream. All I had to do now was edit, write, create a cover, figure out how to self-publish, and attempt to market the book – you know, nothing big!