I made a huge revelation this weekend: I have always worked from a whiteboard.
This doesn’t sound like much of a revelation, I’m sure. But to me, it is. I only realized this fact after stressing over why the hell it’s been so hard to get any work done in the office I’ve set up for myself at home. I DO get work done at home, quite a lot of it in fact. But it’s never smooth. It’s always a slog. I have to force myself to get going.
I work from my brain quite a lot. If you’ve read my stuff for any amount of time, you can probably testify to this fact in a court of law. There’s often no real filter between my brain and my mouth (or, in the case of writing, my fingers). And so, with my writing, I’ve never needed any sort of scratch space or jot area. I just… Go.
Working on this new book, however, has proven to be quite the challenge. I’ve had to figure out how to write fiction — and not just any fiction, science fiction. This means plotting. Planning. Sketching things out. Drawing out timelines. Getting shit straight.
It’s been a far greater struggle than it really should have been. It SHOULD be a struggle, mind you — it’s hard work. But for some reason, I just could not get shit from my head onto a page.
Something hit me over the weekend, while getting my office at the house cleaned up. I was working on some stuff from my day job, and went to go diagram it out on some paper. I referred to some photos I had on my phone of the whiteboard diagrams I did at work. And it suddenly struck me… I never set up a whiteboard in this home office.
When I design websites or tv show stuff or whatever else, I am usually in an office, and that office usually has a whiteboard. There’s something super powerful about the whiteboard for me. Before I even start writing on it, I know whatever I put on there is going to get erased — so there’s a freedom to just GO. Explore. Try. Mess up. Put whatever, wherever. I know that whatever I work out on that board is just sketching.
When I write with a pen on paper, there’s some part of me that feels like I’m permanently archiving whatever it is I’m writing — even if it’s just notes or ideas. I can’t help it. It’s primal. So, when I go to scratch things out, I get frustrated.
When I’m typing, I always hesitate to delete anything, because “hey, I may use that later!” — especially if it’s a piece of writing that I’ve become fond of, but is still terrible. I can’t bring myself to just be free with the creative process. This is not as big a deal when outlining an article for HuffPo or CNN, or for a blog post, because I have the convenience of real-life chronology — things happened how they happened, when they happened. All I gotta do is record them.
But with this fiction stuff… There’s SO MUCH you have to explore, dig into, move around… Outlining helps when on the keyboard or in a notebook, but those teeny tiny lazy precious bits of my psyche that cringe at deleting or crossing out anything interfere.
At the dry erase board, I just GO. I can write anything. It WILL be erased — cause that’s the whole point. So the lazy precious bits of my brain don’t even activate. I can go and go and go, and whatever ends up there is just a part of a greater process. I’ll take a photo of whatever comes out, erase the whole thing, and get to work making what I just diagramed.
It may seem small… But for me, this was a huge, huge revelation. 39 (almost 40!!!) years of existence, 21 of which has been spent making web stuff, 15 of which has been spent writing professionally, and 10 of which have been making other media… And I only just now realized I need a whiteboard to do anything exploratory.
Part of me is angry that I didn’t figure this out years and years ago. All the things I could have gotten done! But the rest of me knows that the journey is the journey. Maybe I had to spend this past year doing this fiction stuff the hard way to get the lesson to stick permanently that fiction isn’t easy and simple. It’s hard work. But now I have the proper tools, and can get through a lot of the early bits a lot more productively.
Artists have the sketchbook. I have my dry erase board. And for this new office, I went with a black glass board and really vibrant chalk pens, because LOOK AT HOW PRETTY!
(Also, now that I have a board set up, and I’m back to blogging regularly, I think I’ll start doing my Notes to Self again. Some folks have asked where they went, saying that they were really helpful and fun to read. I left Tumblr, but the old blog is still up if you’re curious about them or haven’t ever seen them before, or just want to read the old ones. My first one is here!)