I’m writing a novel. Been at it since October, 2009. Draft three. And I got stuck. Not writer’s block stuck (I’m not so sure I believe it that anyway, but that’s a different story for a different time), but plot stuck. Or, more accurately, I didn’t know how to tie everything together. I had all the story lines and characters and details, standing on one side of a deep, vast, expansive canyon. A canyon that would put the so-called Grand Canyon to shame. On the other side, so tiny and so far away, I saw the ending, how the last few pages, even the last chapter, would work out. I’d even written them. Except, there was no way across the canyon. And it was a long way down. I ignored it for a few weeks, pretending it didn’t exist, hoping a bridge would magically appear, or that some golden chariot pulled by pterodactyls would glide down from the clouds and whisk me safely across. Sadly, it never happened.
What did happen is this: I threw up my brain on a few scraps of whiteboard. I dug the pieces of whiteboard out of the closet, bought myself some dry erase markers (a four pack, for more color!), donned my headphones, and went for it. I set the two boards up in my living room, pulled open the large windows to get in the maximum light, dialed up the music, and probably looked like the craziest person on the block (you can see right into my living room from the street) as I wandered around, drank shots of espresso after shots of espresso (it helps to have your own espresso machine), jotted notes down, talked to myself, did little dances in time to the music, and basically lost myself in the world of my novel. Bliss.
By the end, the whiteboards were covered with red, green, blue, and black. Arrows wound their way between ideas, arching around things that were themselves attached to still other thoughts. Large circles highlighted the questions I had, and their solutions. Multi-colored circles were important (though, it ruined the true hue of my markers for a bit, which was annoying), stars perhaps even more so (still not quite sure which is more important: multi-colored circles, stars, or multi-colored stars), underlines, and, well, no blank spaces. After a couple of hours, I’d done it. I’d even grabbed some post-it notes, writing down other notes, expanding on a few thoughts, using them for organizing the chapters in my mind. I wrote everything down.
I stood back. Huh. So, that’s what my brain looks like.
My roommate came home a few hours later, looked at them, and said, ‘I don’t even know what any of that means.’ (I should note, he’s a writer too, so this made it even sweeter.) Perfect. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. Because if he couldn’t follow it, then I knew I’d done right. Plus, I had captured my brain! That’s what the inside of my mind looks like, at least as it pertains to the novel, specifically, this draft of this novel. One tiny little piece, but mine.
Solved. All of the questions were solved. I joked with my roommate that I’d solved 95% of my problems, and the remaining 5% was just to write it. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
What struck me later, though, looking over the whiteboards, now hanging on my walls next to my desk, protected from accidental brushes, and easy access to figure out what happens next in the story, is how easy and free the process was. I’ve tried to use mind-mapping software before when constructing a novel or story. Nodes connecting to other nodes, notes and images and everything else spiraling out from a central starting point. But it took too long to do, took too long to learn, and I was distracted by features when I should have been writing, or figuring out how to continue writing. I’ve also used straight word documents, post-it note boards, strips of paper, whathaveyou. But nothing worked quite like the good old expanse of whiteboard and dry erase pen. Why?
Sometimes, I’ve found, especially in writing, technology gets in the way. No, I don’t want to write my novel on a typewriter (I have two of them, and have tried, but man, those keys are heavy and make my fingers hurt–no electric typewriters for me). I’ve written by hand before, but the cramp my hand gets after an hour is, well, distracting. Plus, the quality of my handwriting quickly deteriorates, meaning I can’t actually read what I wrote, even right after I wrote it. Mostly I write using a computer. And that works. Simple word processor, music on, black words on a white page. And for the most part it works. Until I click on my web browser, and, well, that’s that. Distractions.
What was refreshing about the whiteboards–such a simple, easy way to organize and brainstorm–was the lack of technology. The way I didn’t have to think about anything but putting words on a page. They flowed out, as if connected and pulled directly from my subconscious, spewed across the blank boards. What a wonderful feeling.
(Cue loose tie-in to Credit Unions!)
It made me think of the credit union, when we get the same people coming in to do simple things. I often want to say ‘hey, you could just do these transactions at the ATM, or over the phone’, but I always knew people liked coming in to talk to someone, to have a real, face-to-face interaction. Working on my novel, using technology that is antiquated in many areas, reinforced the idea that, while there are so many different ways to interact with Verity, sometimes we like that human interaction. Sometimes we crave it. It makes us feel safe, to know there’s a face on the other side of our money.
I’ve always loved going into a credit union to do my business, knowing (and seeing) the people behind my money. It gives a level of comfort you just don’t get from the internet. Kind of like watching my brain upchuck itself onto whiteboards. Beautiful.
Sometimes, you just need a little old fashioned technology to make the world go round.
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