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[BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] The Joyful Writer: Tidying Up the Writing Life
Written by
Jill Jepson
November 2015
Written by
Jill Jepson
November 2015

I resisted reading Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I’m skeptical of organizing schemes. Also, “tidying up” sounds too much like housework. Yet, I kept hearing good things about the book, and when NPR called it one of the most important books of 2014, I gave it a try.

Kondo’s advice is deceptively simple: Keep things not because you might use, wear, or read them; not because they’re new and nifty; not because they were a gift. Keep them because they bring you joy. Spread all your clothes on the floor. Hold each item one by one. See how it makes you feel. If that feeling is joy, keep it. If it isn’t, give it away. Do the same for books, papers, odds and ends, and mementos. In the end, what do you have? A house full of things that make you joyful.

A few days after finishing Kondo’s book, I drove to the Goodwill donation center with a carload of clothes and books. I’m still working on tidying up, but already my life feels lighter.

Of course, I then had to think of how Kondo’s method applies to writing—because everything in my life gets down to that.What projects, processes, thoughts, and techniques bring joy to my writing life and which ones do not? How can I hold onto the things that bring me joy and rid myself of those that don’t?

I was troubled. Many of the things we do in our writing lives are not pleasant. Submitting work makes many writers anxious. Some projects bring up fear or sadness. Most lead to a certain amount of frustration. Does that mean we should stop doing those things? Hardly.


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I was on the verge of deciding that Kondo’s notions—so helpful where it comes to clothes, books, and knickknacks—doesn’t work in the realm of writing. Then I realized I was making a serious error. I was mistaking joy for comfort, ease, and pleasure. Joy is none of those things.

Joy is not comfort. The work that makes us uncomfortable is often the exact work we should be doing. Discomfort is where we learn and grow. We should explore it, not avoid it.

Joy is not ease. Sometimes, the words simply flow and we finish a piece quickly. It feels great. But that sweet feeling doesn’t compare to the exhilaration of doing work that challenges us, makes us think, and pushes us to new realms. Easy is fine. Hard is better.

Joy is not pleasure. I once asked students what would bring them joy in their writing lives. A disappointing number wrote things like, “Getting my novel published,” or “Seeing my story in Glimmer Train.” Those things do make us feel good. The flush of success is delicious. It is also brief. We are soon waiting for another success and another brief burst of pleasure. There’s nothing wrong with pleasure, but it isn’t joy.

So if joy isn’t comfort, ease, or pleasure, what is it? Here is the definition I use: Joy is the knowledge that you are following your path with conviction and authenticity. With this definition come several qualities.

Joy is deep. The pleasure of success is superficial. The reason it doesn’t last is that it doesn’t sink into your core or become part of you. True joy dwells in your heart. It takes root there.

Joy is energizing. It gives you more than a brief burst of energy. It brings a long-lasting vigor and stamina.
Joy feels right. Not just “nice” or “enjoyable” but right.

Joy is lasting. Because joy lives deep inside of you, becoming part of the way you think and live, it is immune to the ups and downs of life. Rejections and disappointments still hurt, but they don’t derail you—and they certainly don’t make you stop writing.

These days, I think a lot about what brings real joy into my writing life. I’m discarding the negative thoughts, bad habits, and poor practices that drain me and embracing the things that bring me joy. It is a slow process requiring care and discernment, but it is making my writing life immeasurably better.

I'm Jill Jepson, the author of Writing as a Sacred Path. You can sign up for my free biweekly writing strategies here.

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  • Jill Jepson

    I'm glad you found them helpful, Diane!

  • Thanks for the uplifting thoughts on joy today. I needed them!

  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks for your comment, Isabelle! That joy really is the most important thing, isn't it?

  • Isabelle Laflèche

    What a terrific article. I find that clearing my work space does help clear my mind before writing. But the Joy, when I,m in the zone, that never goes away. Thank you for the reminder!

  • Jill Jepson

    I'm so glad you liked this, Karen! Thanks for commenting!

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Thank you, Jill, for your reminders about what Joy is...and I think that I will start making my own progression from clothes to books to writing projects that bring me the most joy...and let go of the rest! Happy New Year!

  • Jill Jepson

    What a wonderful song, Avril! Thanks!

  • Avril Somerville

    Ah yes, Joy! Deep-down belly joy that comes from knowing you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. My grandmother used to sing a song that went along these lines: "Sweet, beautiful, soul-saving Joy. Oh Joy, down in my soul!"  Nothing fleeting about Joy when you recognize it. Be well, and thank you!

  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks, Sherrey! I'm glad to hear this post spoke to you!

  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks for your comment, Victoria. "Waking up the muse" can be a challenge! Sometimes I write my muse letters. Sometimes I speak to her aloud, asking her what she wants me to do right now. Often, I just keep writing knowing she will come when she comes. 

  • Sherrey Meyer

    Awesome post! Something to consider as we begin a new writing year.

  • Victoria Chames Writing

    Thank you for this - the synchronicity is remarkable. I do see my work as a sacred practice and lately it has been more like a job than a calling, but I want to move forward. Any helpful suggestions for "waking up the muse?"

  • Jill Jepson

    Having created something "worthy of being called a novel," as you put it so beautifully, is definitely a reason for joy, Patricia!

  • Jill Jepson

    I'm pleased to hear you found some inspiration in this, Laurel. Thanks for your comment!

  • Patricia Robertson

    Loved this. Worrying about marketing my books definitely does not bring me joy, but today I went over what I had written during NaNoWriMo and felt joy that I had created something that was worthy of being called a novel.

  • Laurel Davis Huber

    This is wonderful advice - thanks for thinking it through for me...! (Maybe now I'll attack those closets, too)