Hart Fowler is an independent journalist. S. Noelle Lynch is an incendiary nocturnal fiction writer and journalist.
My 24-year-old sister is younger than me, and a third-grade elementary school teacher in DC.
She said: “We’re not writing anymore. It is all typing on the keyboard and phone.”
She meant the old-fashioned way of writing it down on paper, in manuscript or cursive.
10,000 years of script. From cave-drawings to scrolls of papyrus and Gutenberg’s press, to paper, chalkboards, Remington typewriters, legal pads... and now PowerPoint.
Does writing with pen and ink still serve a purpose?
Yes, and we work to prove it.
My fiancée and I are both work-at-home-writers, and have found success by organizing our work utilizing the age-old technique of large-scale visual display. The kind that you do not have to plug in.
It's like dry-erase board, but bigger and better.
ENTER: The shower curtain
Our number of clients and story-ideas grew because we do good work—and good work tends to beget more work, no matter what field you're in.
We found our growing list of pitches and commissioned work, story ideas and random crude drawings, were constantly running off the edges of medium-sized dry-erase boards. Writing smaller didn’t give us that sense of importance we wanted from the display.
We knew we needed a bigger board, which is a good problem to have.
But even the largest sized white-boards at our local art store or box stores wouldn’t fit our needs. Ordering an industrial-sized board, like the ones used in boardrooms or classrooms, was unfeasible.
The epiphany occurred to us while trying to find a toilet plunger at Home Depot in the Bathroom Decor section.
There it was.
A transparent 6' by 8' shower curtain.
She looked at me all-knowing.
I looked back nodding.
Yes was the answer, and $10 was worth the risk.
We hung it that very night, stretching it tightly with nails as if it were a large canvas.
We asked each other if the pressed creases would present a problem, if the plastic itself would hold dry-erase ink, and if it would just be tacky like you’d imagine a shower curtain could look on the wall.
But the creases came out in the hanging, the plastic held the ink, and it didn’t look bad at all. Our doubts relieved, we immediately began drawing up work-flows, with sections for pitches, work-in-progress, and lead-ideas—and we've never looked back.
Here’s why our shower curtain board works:
Writing big feels big
We’re fortunate to have a large office-room with a tall ceiling. Since our shower curtain is mounted with 3 feet between the bottom and the floor, the top stands 10 feet easy. We have to climb up on a chair to hit the high points.
The physicality of that means a bunch. Standing on a chair to write down a pitch—or even better, marking a pitch as accepted—adds a sense of importance that a Google Docs or a spreadsheet doesn’t.
And that feeling is important.
Like a detective on a cold or hot case, you get to stand back and see where you stand—and climbing a chair to write down your triumphs or failures makes you feel like you are in the game.
Because you are.
Standard dry-erase markers work great on shower curtains
Dry-erase markers give us a sharp look, which is key. We use a standard kitchen sponge with a splash of water to wash away edits, and use an old bath towel to dry up the drips.
We use black for pitches, and green for works-in-progress. (One work-in-progress can be the result of 20 pitches, as you probably know.)
We write our current work-in-progress in big letters in all-caps in the most prominent spot on the board, reminding us of the reason for all of this: which is to write, you writer, that’s what we do.
And naturally, we use green for the color of money, showing us the commercial value of all of our work.
We use blue for submitted pieces, or what we call The Outbox.
We’ve debated using red for late payments from publishers, or to include our freelance balance sheet on the board. That’s a part of freelance life (though we've had more good luck than bad with publishers) but ultimately we decided not to display the finance on the board. We chose to write the art things on the board and save the nuts and bolts of commerce and finance for a spreadsheet.
Which leads us to the last and closing section.
The Shower Curtain Board is no substitute for Google Docs and/or a spreadsheet
We still use Google Docs and Folders and spreadsheets religiously for organization. When you pitch 20 pubs to get one hit, you need a good place to handle dates and follow-ups.
The beauty of the board is that it complements the rest of our necessary organizational tools. The big visual display is a testament to your work, a physical, visceral element that goes a long way in the impermanent temporal “delete/backspace” world.
A 6’ by 8’ board can also serve as a large-scale to-do list. Need-be, you can write “buy broccoli” or “toilet paper” and not interrupt what you're really working on: “Pitch How Retail Employs More than Coal Mines.”
The sense of satisfaction we get from looking at our work on a grander scale than the laptop can provide has helped our morale, confidence and camaraderie immensely, a welcome innovation on an old-fashioned tool that works for us in the fast-moving world of freelance writing.
It is an age-old technique, after all—writing things down with a pen and ink.