Vision Board to the Rescue
Why create a vision board?
I am standing underneath a tree, the one that held a hive I never knew about until autumn flexed its muscles and blew off the leaves that hid it, when my friend Megan asks me, “Before I read your manuscript, can you give me some direction?”
I circle the tree so I’m standing below where the hive once hung and plant my feet where it eventually fell. I look up. I look down. Nothing’s there, but I hear the buzzing, and I remember kneeling next to the hive one almost-winter morning so I could see the vacant hexagons. How do they do this? How do they know to do this? How do they know this is the exact shape they need in order to do their work?
I want to tell Megan I don’t know what all these pages I’ve spent years writing are about. I want her to set up the lines and angles—the boundaries—so I can do my work. I circle the tree and talk to Megan, ignoring what I must look like to my neighbors. None of them know I’m a writer, but I wonder if it would make a difference. “Callie’s circling trees again—must be wrestling with a story. Honey, maybe tell the kids to come inside.”
I tell Megan that the idea was that I’d write another book about teaching a story. “Except I’m no longer teaching.” I look again to where the hive once was and wonder if this summer the bees will set up camp here again. I’ve heard they return to the same spot annually, but I haven’t seen them. What about this tree wasn’t working? Or was it that it worked just fine and they wanted to see about some other way to live?
“I don’t want to make any judgmental declarations about teaching,” I proclaim to Megan. “I left teaching. I love teaching. Those are the facts.”
A man walks by and nods hello. He is on his daily morning walk. Every single day at the same time he walks past my house. I wave hello, but keep talking to Megan. “The question I’m left with then, is does The Hobbit have anything to offer a woman in her 40s?”
I turn away from the tree and toward my house. I think the harder question might be is whether I have something to offer if I am not teaching. Can Bilbo, can Beorn, can the dwarves, show me something about myself that I might share with the world? Can the dragon?
“I need you to read it and tell me what it is,” I tell Megan walking into my house. “I need you to tell me what it can be.”
I put my phone away and walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
About a week later Megan sends extensive feedback on my manuscript. She tells me it is an extended meditation on The Hobbit, and an application of the story as it pertains to me, a woman in her 40s.
“It needs a strong thesis statement and more dragons,” she says, and the statement is an invitation and a dare rolled into one.
I receive her feedback on a weekend my parents are visiting, which gives me a necessary excuse to let the story sit while I enjoy some time with my mom and dad.
We go to Found, a favorite store of mine in Kerrytown, and I am running my fingers along colorful, thick linen work aprons. “I want a job where I have to put on an apron like this,” I breathe. My dad is standing next to me and picks up a print and shows it to me. It is a literary quote that’s been decorated symbolically. “I see these things and always expect to see your name at the bottom,” he tells me.
My dad is always doing stuff like that—gently naming things about me before I’m aware of or have the courage to say them. He’s very much like Gandalf, except much better groomed and way more organized.
His comment gave me an idea, though, or more accurately, brought up a question: How could I creatively go about finding and articulating a thesis? How could I incorporate markers and scissors, butcher paper, and washi tape into my writing process?
I’ve always loved vision boards and wanted an excuse to make one, and now seemed like the right time. While it didn’t require donning an apron (someday, maybe?) for about a week my writing room transformed into a craft room.
I found this vision board link and began journaling through the questions and using the steps as direction. Next I rolled out a piece of butcher paper onto my writing room floor and snipped images, colors, and words from magazines. I clipped anything that caught my eye and made me consider my manuscript.
I wanted some kind of movement to my vision board—something that would suggest my attention to what is—to the work I’ve done so far—and my hope of what it might become. I’ve written two books so far, but this is the first time I’ve taken a more assertive stance on my work. Any kind of writing I do, I do from the perspective of giving the piece whatever it needs in order to become whatever it needs to become. I’ve felt a part of its becoming, but never considered having a hand (or control over) what it became. To have a say feels vulnerable, scary even. It also feels powerful, and that was enough to keep going.
I divided the butcher paper into thirds:
- What it is
- Dreams + Hopes
- To-dos + to-tries
Making the first section allowed me to find and write my thesis. Creating the second section allowed me to dream as big as I wanted to, but to also to create tasks to attempt to accomplish those dreams.
I found the movement I needed.
I sent my thesis statement to Megan, Dave Malone, and my friend Jaime (two poets and an engineer make for an incredible critique concoction), and thanks to their feedback was able to sharpen it into a solid working thesis, and the vision board hangs right next to my desk:
The bees have returned. One night recently my family and I were sitting around the firepit when I saw them again—a swarm, really—flying in and out of some space between our kitchen window and the wall of our house.
“Look,” I said, and my family did. We watched the bees in silence. The sun had set, its orange fingers like claws scraped across the sky, leaving purple and grey marks, and the bees looked like peppercorns, and the fire ripped into the air trying to join with what did not want to be put to rest. With all that was trying to get home.
Try It: Create a Vision Board
Do you have a large writing project you’re working on and need to get at the heart of it? Or even a small project like a single, challenging poem? Try a vision board! It’s a fun way to attend to what is and what could be. If you create one, share your photo links in the comments below.
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I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.