Hello, my fellow creatives! I have one more notion for you on attacking those creative problems and figuring out a way to keep moving forward on all your creative projects. Last month in Sleep On It, I suggested giving your subconscious mind an assignment at bedtime. This month, we’ll change things up by using a tactic that seems too simple to work…and yet, weirdly enough, it often does. The method? Writing big.
When I was in art school, the first thing the drawing instructor had us all do was go buy the biggest pad of newsprint we could carry. This was no mean feat in downtown Chicago, where the wind always seems to be blowing at gale force, threatening to carry me off into Lake Michigan with my portfolio as if I was parasailing. I got plenty of nasty looks from businesspeople when I lugged a big honkin’ portfolio onto the El, too. And by the time I’d walk home from the station, my arm was just about ready to fall off. Was it really worth drawing on such big sheets of paper when transporting them was sublimely impractical?
According to the instructors, high school students tend to draw cramped little pictures. They make exacting marks, focusing on detail, but focusing so hard that they don’t actually see the big picture. Drawing class always warmed up with “gesture” drawings, which consisted of big, sweeping strokes made with the whole hand and arm, using charcoal that was so fat, we couldn’t have added any detail with it even if we’d wanted to. At the time, I drew this way because I was told to. I’m not necessarily sure it made me a better artist. But I’m positive that using my whole hand and arm rather than just my fingertips makes an enormous difference to me when I’m problem-solving my fiction writing.
I’m a huge proponent of freewriting in a notebook to figure out things like “what happens next” or “how could this scene be different”. But when a plot line gets really sticky, I’ve found that using bigger paper and a bigger writing implement frees up my idea generation even more. Rather than writing in a notebook, I use ledger-size or larger paper. Instead of a pen, I use a Sharpie marker. I don’t even write on any particular part of the paper. I write in clusters, and I might even diagram.
Whiteboards are a particular favorite of mine. I tend to write especially large and loose with a clumsy whiteboard pen.
It’s also liberating to know that if you write something really dumb, you can rub it right back out. I have two lap-sized whiteboards that I use often. They were both very cheap. One isn’t even actually flat, but that suits my purposes just fine, because this is for quick, dirty, loose idea generation.
A few quick whiteboard tips:
-Copy down any particularly good ideas from your whiteboard somewhere safe, since the ink does rub off
-If you have dried marker on your whiteboard, draw over it with fresh whiteboard marker and then erase. The solvent in the fresh marker will un-stick the old ink. This can sometimes even work for permanent marker.
-If you have a crappy whiteboard and aren’t worried about scuffing it (like my two-dollar warped lap board) you can use a plastic kitchen scrubby as an eraser
-Whiteboard markers can also write on mirrors and glass. Be careful on appliances, though, they can stain things like refrigerators.
-Scrap tub surround material might be usable as a portable, lightweight and cheap dry erase board, depending on how it’s coated.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite toys was a big chalkboard. (No, I didn’t grow up in the Great Depression…this was the seventies.) It was two-sided, one green and one black, and you could write on one side and then flip it around for a “clean slate.” I wonder whatever happened to that thing! It’s probably nowhere near as tall as I remember it, but I’d still put it to good use if I had it now.
I painted part of the wall in my office with chalkboard paint, which you can find at the hardware store. If you decide to try this, make sure your wall is really smooth to begin with. Little dings and grit become really noticeable when you’re trying to write over them with chalk. You might make out an airplane in the center of the board that I used while writing Turbulence to remember the difference between fore and aft, starboard and port.
When an idea is still in a very freeform state, I’ll often jot down key points on sticky notes. I’m still writing big at this point, we’re talking 3-5 words per note. Then I find an empty surface and start laying out what happens when in my story. (This door shot is from one of my early PsyCop books, probably Criss Cross.)
This method would work with a non-linear project too. If you’re thinking about a painting, for instance, you could jot down a number of things that have caught your eye lately. Stick the concepts up on the wall, then begin grouping them in various ways to see what sorts of themes emerge.
Here’s a table I commandeered when I was working on finishing the Channeling Morpheus series. I had all kinds of dangling threads to tie off and I was working with a storyline that wove together thematically linked present and flashback scenes. Whew, what a challenge. Not only do I have big craft paper and big markers, but I have the sticky notes in play as well.
If you don’t have access to brown craft paper and you’d like to draw really big, you could always grab a roll of cheap gift wrap at the dollar store and use the back side of the paper to sketch out your project.
Little Big Idea
At the very least, if you’re working on a written piece and you’d like a fresh perspective, try changing the zoom on your word processor to make the words really big. You’ll achieve a similar effect to switching the font, but without the danger of messing up any formatting.
Well, my dear friends, this wraps up a full year of creative tips and tricks. Notion Potion is now fully decanted! I hope this column has inspired whatever projects intrigue and engage you. Thanks so much for reading!
Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books and the author of many award-winning gay paranormal thrillers, including PsyCop and Magic Mansion. Her latest serially-written series, Turbulence, is a twisted foray into the Bermuda Triangle. Check it out at JCPbooks.com