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How To Clean Up Your Copy with Marie Kondo...and Ann Handley

When the new Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie came out, it was an instant hit—likely because we all need some help letting go of our junk.

The show, which stars organizational guru Marie Kondo, provides a framework for decluttering your home. Marie says that the items you keep in your home should spark joy—if you have items that do not serve an obvious and necessary function (think pots and pans or shampoo) or do not spark joy, you should get rid of them. Then you put some care into organizing what remains. Goodbye, old greeting cards. Sayonara, business receipts from 2015. Auf wiedersehen, blazer that still has the store tags from eight months ago. I find Marie’s advice useful for keeping my home decluttered, but there’s another aspect of our lives that can benefit from the KonMari method of cleaning house: our writing. We can all learn how to better our writing by taking the same advice: get rid of any copy that doesn’t serve an obvious function or spark joy—then organize what remains.

Start with a Point

Every written piece should have some sort of point. What are you trying to say? What do you want others to take away? For example, the point of this piece is to offer some advice to writers like yourself how they can improve their writing by decluttering and organizing. Be clear about this point, for yourself and for your readers. A certain minimum amount of copy will be required to get that point across clearly and succinctly. Like your shampoo, this copy serves a function, even if it doesn’t spark any joy.

Add Some Joy

The little details above about items some of us may need to purge? They’re not necessary to communicate the point of this piece. I could cut them, and you would still understand what I’m saying. But they add some color to the piece that I think many of you will be able to relate to (you save greeting cards, don’t you?). And they spark some joy for me—so I’m going to keep them. While they may not be integral to communicating your point, additions like anecdotes and interesting details help your readers to understand your point AND enjoy your writing.

Give Your Words a Good Home

Marie also has a book about decluttering in which she outlines how we should respect our belongings and the roles they play in our lives, organizing them appropriately. All belongings should also have a specific “home” or place they live in. Socks, for example, should be thanked for the difficult job they complete for us each day and folded and stacked carefully—rather than carelessly rolled together and shoved in a drawer. We should treat our words with respect, too. Instead of carelessly rolling them together, we should organize them in a way that takes advantage of their true value. Each word should have a clear place and purpose in your content piece. Go back to your main point and organize all copy accordingly.

Try It Out Here

Ever sent an email, and the recipient only responds to the first of your three questions? Yeah, me too. Most people have a full inbox and a relatively short attention span, so they scan and respond to only what catches their attention. Email is therefore the perfect place to start decluttering your copy a la KonMari. Here’s my approach:

  1. Determine the point of my email.

  2. Draft the email.

  3. Reread and edit, asking myself “what can I remove?”

  4. Organize what remains in an appropriate order with bold font, bullets, etc.

I challenge you to try it with an email you’re writing today. Your recipients will thank you.

No, I’m Not a Plagiarist

Yes, I realize Ann Handley, writer extraordinaire, has published a newsletter piece about Marie Kondo. When I saw it, I gulped down my mouthful of Sunday morning coffee and loudly exclaimed “NO!” as I got her email, subject line: “Marie-Kondo Your Writing.” I had been noodling on this piece for a couple of weeks—I was not quite sure what was missing, so I was hesitant to publish. Ann’s piece helped me figure it out. Her take on Marie-Kondo-ing your writing includes getting rid of baggage, even if you enjoy it (maybe like those sweatpants you’ve had for ten plus years that are comfortable but totally worn out). While words we commonly use may be easy and comfortable and have the appearance of making a good piece of writing, we should all double check that we’re not perpetuating buzzwords and clichés—our writing baggage. I encourage you to check out Ann’s post here (and sign up for her Sunday newsletter, while you’re at it)—and then get on with cleaning up your copy.


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