Scrivener + Whiteboard + Digital Camera = Order out of Chaos

I have a medium size whiteboard in my office – a 120cm x 60cm off-cut from the local DIY. I use it a lot in the early chaos stage of writing children’s and YA books and also putting together cookery classes and management workshops (which subsidise the writing!). I then switch to Scrivener, which is brilliant for getting some semblance of order and polishing things up. I then print out in Word.

But I still love the sheer messiness of the whiteboard in the early stages, and that it can hold a whole free-form jumble of scribbles and notes and lists and drawings and linking arrows and Blu-tacked bits of paper and Post-it notes. I can draw visual relationships between things that make sense to me (even if to nobody else) no matter how badly drawn, because I was the one who drew them (and not some smartass computer program). I also find it quicker and easier to draw when I’m holding a fat whiteboard pen rather than when I’m fiddling about with a mouse or trackpad. And that early chaotic step is absolutely essential (to me anyway) in the whole creative process. I sometimes can’t get the ideas down fast enough.

A couple of months ago, I had to put a workshop together in a hurry, and both sides of the board were full of notes and stuff for a new YA novel. I grabbed the camera, took a couple of snaps, downloaded them into iPhoto, wiped the board clean and got on with it. Two weeks later, I couldn’t recall the name I’d given to some obscure character in the YA book. Searched everywhere. Nothing. Then I remembered the whiteboard. Dived into iPhoto brought up the picture and there it was along with everything else, including stuff I’d totally forgotten. Blew it up and could even read the tiny scrawl on a Post-it note.

Since then, I’ve been saving the board in iPhoto on a regular basis in its own album. It’s all there in date sequence. This morning, I wondered whether I could drag stuff from iPhoto into Scrivener and of course you can. Just drag out of iPhoto onto the desktop and then drag straight into the Research folder in Scriv. Once it’s open in the Editor screen, just double-click on it and you can blow it up and zoom around (even rotate it!) as much as you like.

So there you have it. Just stick a whiteboard on the wall. Even a small one (60x40) will get you started. Get scribbling and drawing and story-boarding or moving synopsis cards around on it or whatever. When your ready or want to change anything or the board is full, just take a snap, download and drag into Scriv., wipe the board clean and start over. You’ll never lose another idea. Hope this is useful.


And if you want to enter batshit insane writer territory, there is this.

Cover every wall. They even have a magnetic base coat you can apply first, which will turn your walls into a big magnetic whiteboard. Um, though not recommended to combine the computer room with the Magnet Whiteboard Room.


Very good advice – I work in similar, if virtual, fashion with an application called Curio. Combined with a Wacom tablet (or not), it’s like being in a room with an infinite number of crazy-smart whiteboards. If a portable whiteboard is interesting to you, do a search for Curio in this forum and you’ll find lots of good information. I’d go on about it, but I’ve pretty much pulverized that particular dead horse around these parts. Which is a gross image, for which I apologize.



P.S. To Amber:

When we bought our current house, one full wall of one room was covered in that stuff. It was all I could do to not make it my office.

Another fan of whiteboards, real or virtual. When I worked in an office, I always had a couple within easy reach, the larger the better. In my present working room, up under the eaves, rectangular vertical space is at a premium, so I too have become a fan of Curio.

Although I suppose I could instead do this, which I make no apology for posting again because I think it hints at a fascinating creative process.


While I am a frequent user of virtual whiteboards (by means of a mix of Circus Ponies NoteBook, MyMind and Scrivener’s own Corkboard), I admit that real whiteboards with real photos or stickies are a different matter. Touching something is a means of knowing it. Something my mouse cannot let me do with virtual whiteboards.


What I’d like:

Curio looks great and I wish I could afford it. I’ve tried some other mind-mapping stuff, but found that I had to jump through too many hoops in a steep learning curve to make them worth using (I’m embarrassed to say I’ve still only got my head round a fraction of what Scrivener can do, but that fraction is already invaluable).

From what I see in the L&L forums the biggest struggle for most of us is sorting out the creative chaos at the start of any new project. I probably use less than 20% of my original ideas, but I can’t stop them coming when they come and it takes time to sort through stuff and choose between the multitude of directions in which a plot can move. One new scene or idea for a new character can challenge everything that’s gone before, but in retrospect be seen as the pivotal point at which whole story comes together. Hence my reluctance in trashing anything too soon.

There is always that magic moment in any project where the thing starts to edit itself and it becomes very clear what belongs and what has to go, but it can take weeks or even months hitting that spot and until then paranoia holds sway. You guys were probably snapping your whiteboards already – the technology’s been around long enough – but for me this was what it took to stop seeing a whiteboard as something almost sacred, that didn’t get wiped for months until everything had been faithfully transcribed into Scriv. to seeing it as something alive and dynamic, that I can play around with in a much more spendthrift manner, knowing that it’s all safely stored. I can even run them like a frame by frame animation of the process over time.

I find that as I move on in a writing project, I very rarely actually go back and use a much earlier draft or outline, but the sheer peace of mind knowing that I can helps me sleep easier at night. At times, I like to step chronologically through all the various draft incarnations and see just exactly what’s been there from the very beginning, and what or who got dropped along the way – Melvin the Lizard? I liked that little guy! Whatever happened to him?


Lifehacker just reported on an interesting new application called Note Taker for the iPhone/touch by no less a programming celebrity than Dan Bricklin, the guy who invented the spreadsheet.

Lifehacker refers to it as an “endless notepad,” a term that applies as well to using it as a pocketable whiteboard as to a finger-tip-driven taker of written notes. It’s different enough that I don’t dare to describe it myself, but Lifehacker has a video demo at: … ss-notepad

And the developer describes it here:

Watching the video, I suspect that it’d work quite well as a whiteboard, particularly with its clever write-large, display-small trick. An iPhone/touch can display doodles with far greater precision than any of us can draw.

There’s a free demo version (limited to four pages) to experiment with. The full version is $1.99.


Someone must have (or will) make a whiteboard app for the iPad when it arrives (yeah, they did, just type Whiteboard into iTunes at the Store). That would make a contribution to the writers batshit project, particularly if they get the export bit right which I have no doubt they will (Apple that is).

Just to revive a dormant thread, before they were on Dragon’s Den I bought a product called Magic Whiteboard, you can find it on the web and in Ryman’s. It is a roll of perforated plastic sheet (maybe 3’ by 4’) which sticks to the wall using static electricity (which means small pieces of paper stick to it) and later Blu tak. Moderately eraseable - easy within half an hour, more difficult thereafter, need solvents after about a month - and if it gets too scruffy just turn it over and use the other side.

Not that cheap these days but more spouse friendly than paint and I only get through one sheet a year