I'm loving my process wall
Updated: Sep 3
Sometimes I get sick of looking at my laptop. Don’t get me wrong, I love my laptop. I have it decked out with stickers. I have a desktop background image of my workspace I like my keyboard and its size. But sometimes, I cannot look at a screen. It’s cold.
I am also notorious for turning on my device and then distracting myself with other things like email, social media, a Notion website that I am playing around with, my analytics for my website, and reads on my Medium account. The business of being a writer is not writing and sometimes I will get too hung up on my numbers. Even typing that sentence pinged an impulse in my brain to go check all my numbers.
As a writing instructor, I encourage my students to take things off the screen, hand them pens and paper, and ask them to freewrite. Or sometimes I give them a whiteboard and ask them to write out a sentence multiple ways. Sometimes I will hand them printouts of their drafts and a collection of highlighters to color-code their editing. I like for things to be manual.
I know I am in the minority. I have spoken to writers about their processes and many of those writers are simple. They sit down at their screen and let the words come out. When I was first getting started and all my scenes were written in a polka dot notebook from CVS, I asked them if they purchased Scriver or any other writing software. They said they had two files open – one for random scenes and one for the draft. That was it. Everything was typed in Word.
Maybe I over-complicate things. But when I am trying to figure out something complicated – like structure, timelines, or reference points – my brain can only do so much. Often I have to draw it out.
For the novel I am writing now, I have three different POVs. Two of them are first-person retrospective. The other is third-person limited. The story is not told linearly because of the characters’ reflections about things in the past – and because they are unreliable narrators, these stories overlap and contradict themselves. I was feeling overwhelmed by the whole thing.
So I made a process wall.
I took a pack of notecards and wrote out the scenes that needed to be written on each card. Also, on each card, I wrote the name of the person who was telling the story and highlighted them with a color. I also colored the top edge of the card to match. This way I have options. I can organize the cards according to character, according to a linear timeline, or according to the order I imagined the story should be told. I arranged them in the order I wanted the story told and placed them in a notecard box.
The beauty of putting these scenes on cards is it allowed me to see what was missing. I am writing a mystery, which means I have to make sure to have clues early without giving away the end. This included what I called “ghost scenes” – scenes that happened in the corner of the unreliable narrator’s recollections. I marked those in grey. They have no narrator, but they need to exist in the periphery.
Once the cards were completed – this took me one afternoon in my studio with a few lesser-known Hitchcock films that were about to leave the Criterion channel at the end of the month playing in the background – I was ready to assemble my board. I considered buying a Whiteboard and installing it on my wall, but a good one is expensive, and I couldn’t speak to how much writing I planned to do on the whiteboard. My bare wall would be fine.
I used two strips of painter’s tape to divide the space into three parts and hung up all the cards for Part one.
When it was time to write the next scene, I pulled it from the wall and placed it either on my notebook for initial sketching or on my laptop for typing. Once the scene was written, I placed it in the completed section of my notecard box.
Since I created the board, I have also added supplements to it – quotes, things I need to remember, and inspirational things. A part of me thinks I need to print out my mood boards and add those as well. To be honest, I’m not as proud of my mood boards as I thought I would be. For some reason, they feel rushed and flat.
And honestly, I assembled this process board in the summer – in June – and I am not as far along as I wanted to be. I was incredibly productive in July. August has not been a great writing month because I had to backburner it for teaching. I managed to get two writing days in, which for me is a triumph.
Also, the story continues to grow. Because some of the cards are like: Dating, I had to conceptualize what this couple would find romantic without being cliche. This means this one card was actually two to three different scenes of this couple interacting in a romantic way that is specific to their romance. And as much as I love what I came up with – it took several days for one card instead of two cards a day.
The only drawback to the board is my writing space is not mobile anymore. Because before I never had a designated writing space, all my supplies, notes, and organization tools traveled with me. For my last novel, I kept a timeline of events in my planner and it folded out like a medieval map. Now I have it posted in one space that does not fit in a purse well. So when things happen that keep me out of my studio – such as days when I am teaching on campus, or like when the electricians came and rewired our apartment – I can no longer easily relocate to a Starbucks or Panera to work anymore.
But also, I am less comfortable working in those spaces now. I feel like I have outgrown them. I love them for all they gave me – a safe space to work, both heat and warmth, nourishment, and reliable WiFi. The process wall is another way I am claiming the permanence of my writing space. This is my wall in my room and I can do whatever I want with it.
The act of pulling a card from the wall and then writing the scene that is on the card is incredibly satisfying. It takes the decision of “What are we writing today?” out of my hands. It also means that some days I never have to turn on the laptop at all and fall into the trap of “I’ll just check my email real quick”. I am free to not look at the screen and play with the scene to see where it goes.