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The Writing Life: The Power of a Whiteboard

15 February, 2010

(The usual caveat: I’m not a published writer and these writing posts are as much to help myself as others. Gain from them what you can, but please don’t take them as definitive advice.)

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a very simple piece of office equipment: a whiteboard. I dutifully hung it above my desk and began using it every day to make a list of the writing tasks I wanted to accomplish. When each one was done, I would tick it off and, at the end of the day, I would wipe the whole list off, ready for the following writing day.

That all sounds incredibly simple, right? And it is simple, but I’ve also discovered that it’s having a powerful effect on the way I write.

To begin with, making a list of my goals requires me to come up with them before I even turn on my computer every morning. I have to actively think about where I am with each project and where I want them to go next. The act of doing this has revealed to me that I’m moving very, very slowly on some things but much quicker on others. For example, I write new words a lot quicker than I edit, which may mean I need to set aside more time for editing than writing. In terms of this list of goals, I might need to reduce the number of new words I want to write, to ensure that I have time to edit another chapter or short story.

Having a list of visible goals is also having a big impact. In the past, I’ve kept my to-do lists in my head, as I’m fairly good at organising without writing anything down. Now though, whenever I look up, I have to look at my progress throughout the day. Doing so lets me know whether I can relax and take a break, or whether I need to stop procrastinating and get back to work.

Having these goals visible also lets other people see them. Now, whenever my partner comes into my office, he can also see where I’ve got up to. Whilst I know that he’s not going to chastise me for not writing, knowing that my lazy days are no longer private often spurs me to work harder.

Despite all this though, I’ve quickly learnt that being flexible with my goals is very important. I’ll set smaller wordcount targets on days when I know I have to go out in the afternoon, for example. I also try not to be too hard on myself when I don’t accomplish everything I wanted, especially if something unexpected ate up my time. That’s why I clear the whiteboard every evening – there’s nothing more depressing than spending all morning staring at yesterday’s goals, bemoaning how behind you are. Better to set a fresh set of goals every day and not let the successes or failures of previous days get in the way.


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