why Pinterest is totally not a waste of time: creating a visionboard for your creative project ( + why it’s helpful)




I joined Pinterest for one major reason. I am returning to my novel-in-progress THE DECADENTS after a couple months’ break from it and wanted to create a digital visionboard to help drive it to completion.

This book has been tricky for me because it deals with some challenging subject matter. It’s also drawing on some raw life material from my years in LA which (it turns out) I’m still processing.

It’s a big departure from my three previously published novels, which I regard as the work of a much younger writer: someone who was still finding her way to her true voice, who hadn’t yet realized the Big Themes of her life – and thus her fiction. I’m not the same person I was back then, and I’m not the same writer. (I like to think I’ve deepened with age.) I’ve also lost a lot of illusions, which means that the personal world I am writing both from and about is very different. And some of those changes, I realize now, still had to settle into me before I was equipped to write the novel that I need to write.

But I digress. (Clears throat.) So.




I’ve always – always – written to music, and I create playlists for each novel (and for some of the characters) to serve as a private soundtrack. My brain learns to associate certain songs with a certain kind of fiction writing – neurons that fire together, wire together – so when I sit at my desk and start up iTunes on my Mac, my brain realizes it’s Bidness Time and shifts into the required state. (This is why creative rituals can be so effective – once they’re ingrained, they can shortcut you into productivity. )

Not to mention — music inspires, even without the power of ritual.

Music gets you in the mood.

So why not do this visually?

Marketers have realized that the more senses a brand can evoke, the more powerful the connection it can form with the consumer. It makes sense to apply this to the creative process. The more senses you engage as you bring your work into being, the more vivid and committed the relationship you form with it – which ends up creating a more powerful experience for your audience.


In his book BLAH BLAH BLAH: WHAT TO DO WHEN WORDS DON’T WORK, Dan Roam compares our visual and verbal minds.

Our visual mind, he says, is a hummingbird.

Our verbal mind is a fox. (How cute.)

The fox is:

(A little smug)

The fox “advances step by step with laser-like focus.” He shifts as he needs to but keeps his eyes straight ahead. He “tests the wind, calculates distance and velocities, and, at the precise moment…he strikes!”

And then he’s very impressed with himself.

The hummingbird is:

(flighty and easily distracted)

The hummingbird “sees clearly in all directions at all times…She sees her environment as a three-dimensional space with food potential everywhere; she can fly backward (and even upside down) to get to the nearest flower.” She’s so speedy that she doesn’t have to get from point to logical point like the fox; she just appears where she wants to be. And she synthesizes: “touching and seeing everything, she builds a complete model of the forest in her mind.”

And then she wonders where she put her keys.

The verbal mind is the “piece-by-piece” fox mind. The visual mind is the “all at once” hummingbird mind. The fox is the trees; the hummingbird is the forest.

I wanted, in writing my novel, a little less fox and a little more hummingbird. I felt like I was losing the forest for the trees, and getting trapped in thickets. Which is one reason I decided to cultivate the visual side of my brain.

By creating a visionboard, I am ‘telling’ the story of my novel….all at once. I can get a kind of deep visceral feeling for how the different parts relate to each other, and flash on some new insights as a bonus.


A visionboard acts as a creative trigger in other ways as well:

a) It sends you on a hunt for appropriate images. Since images, like music, evoke mood and feeling, you not only have to think about the look of your novel, but how it should make you feel.

(When I come across images that I like, and want to keep, but that don’t feel right for my visionboard, I use the ‘like’ button to tag them and store them away for whatever.)

Which means you define the general aesthetic of your novel by what you reject as much as — if not more than — what you select. As I do this, my vision for the novel assumes greater depth and clarity.

And for any vision to be compelling, it needs to be clear. A strong, clear vision that resonates with you emotionally can act like a kind of motivational tractor beam. It pulls you along. It pulls you in. Which means you’re more likely to achieve your goal – or finish the novel.

b) As you search out images, you are also feeding your head.

There’s a great quote by Gertrude Stein: Everything must come into your scheme, otherwise you cannot achieve real simplicity.

When you open yourself up to different kinds of influence, you are priming your creative pump. The mind is a restless, pattern-making machine: and, like a shark, it must be constantly on the move. Which means it’s constantly digesting what you feed it: seeking out new connections and relationships that incorporate this new material into whatever pre-existing scheme you might be working with.

So by discovering images that symbolize your old ideas….you’ll also find images that help you produce new ideas (or tweak the old ones in new ways).

c) Like any other form of social media, Pinterest can be addictive. But if used with intention and timing, it can also help your writing because of how it allows you to take a break from it.

Thoughts create neural pathways in the brain. When those thoughts repeat, those pathways deepen. We get blocked in our creative work when we get trapped in the same loops of thinking and cut ourselves off from the kind of stimulation that can trigger new ideas (see above).

In the book THE BREAKOUT PRINCIPLE, Harvard professor Herbert Benson refers to
“a powerful mind-body impulse that severs prior mental patterns and…opens an inner door to a host of personal benefits”

including an increase in creative insight.

In sum, the way to achieve this is by working a problem as hard as you can until you hit that inner wall and cannot get beyond it. Then you remove yourself to a completely different activity that lulls you into a kind of trance. Random thoughts might drift through your mind….and then, without warning, some kind of solution bursts forth.

(Benson talks about “the relaxation response, which measured cardiovascular and respiratory responses”, etc., and how the science of that underpins the breakout principle, but excuse me if I don’t get into all that. I’m going for the really general gist of it.)

Switching from your writing to Pinterest can also serve to switch off those repeating thought-loops that weren’t getting you anywhere. By immersing yourself in a different activity – one which allows your mind to relax and roam – you’re setting yourself up to kick some more creative ass.


As always, intention is important. Stating your intention at the beginning of any endeavor sends a signal to your unconscious mind to bring certain things to your attention while ignoring what’s not relevant.

To that end, you could create a “vision statement” for your board – and your novel – that keeps you focused and on track. You could come up with what Joyce Schwarz in her book THE VISION BOARD refers to as a “power word” that serves a both a “vision statement and defining image” for what you want your board to accomplish. It could be a word or words that states the general theme of your project, or the end result you want to create, or a feeling you want to invoke in the audience, or…anything, really.

After all, it’s your visionboard.


Do you work with visionboards? Do you have any thoughts on them or experiences to share in the comments below?

If you’re on Pinterest, and especially if you’re creating a visionboard of your own, look for me.

Maybe we can inspire each other.

Jan 22, 2012

24 comments · Add Yours

I used a collage for my first novel and I did find it helpful. I didn’t out too much thought into where and what and how I placed things, I just wanted to capture the essence. Interestingly, I think the collage actually captures my vision for it better than the reality of what I wrote. After a space of a few months I’m going to do a substantial re-write and the novel I’m changing it to is much more like the picture on the collage (darker for starters). See here: http://www.darcytodracula.com/2011/03/my-story-my-collage.html

I love pininterest too and used it when trying to get the design and theme right for my sister’s blog – collating colours and images to inspire.


I use Tumblr the same way. The display is linear, but the Archive function lets you look at everything together. I probably would have gotten into Pinterest if it had been around sooner– I’ve already got Blogger, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, and it’s getting to be a bit much. I really like your way of breaking down ideas and images, though!


Much of my thinking is in kinesthetic/tactile/visual diagrams; usually in three dimensions, sometimes in four, rarely in five.

I don’t know of any way to set this down.


I love searching for photos that inspire my fiction. I’ve only done this in the hard copy world for now, because I’m a cranky old Luddite. Finding a photo in a book or magazine that’s JUST right is amazing. I also find digging through very old photos helpful, as my imagination owes much to the gray, stodgy past of New England.

However, I may try Pinterest for my cartooning. I need a faster interaction w/ material to help my generate ideas in that arena. Although God knows I don’t need another addictive site on the internet in my life right now.

Thanks for sharing, as always.


Have requested an invite at Pinterest. Now we play the waiting game…


There may be something to this. For example, I notice that the celebs whose photos you’ve pinned — all of them icons of beauty and desire — are mostly drug addicts, or were at one time or another. Also, there are many images of “silenced truth,” whether it’s the oblique communication of tattoos or images that are more direct. Also the images of non-verbal, symbolic communication — dancers, body art — and, conversely, of personal messages that are not being delivered by people — neon slogans, grafitti. And, of course, the central image of the stack of journals: the truths you tell yourself and no one else, that peculiar combination of speaking out and keeping secret that journals are. What’s missing? There are no images of people interacting with each other — people actively in relationship with others. There is an air of great loneliness about these images, of people with important things to say — secrets to tell perhaps, people locked up in beautiful bodies behind beautiful faces — who are having a lot of trouble speaking their truth, but who are saying a great deal symbolically and indirectly.

Every time you write about The Decadents, I’m struck by what a hard time you’re having writing it. I wonder if your thinking about the themes you’re writing about is resolved enough yet to construct a narrative around them. That translation — of ideas into story — requires a clear understanding of at least one or the other. You can write your way to such an understanding, of course, and you may have no other choice, but I think it’s also true that behind Gertrude Stein’s insight (and, by the way, if anyone had a hummingbird approach to writing, it was her, and that’s not necessarily a compliment) — “Everything must come into your scheme” — there must be a scheme to start with. It’s difficult, but fun I think, to pull apart the strands even as you’re weaving them together, trying to step back and see the whole cloth before it’s made.


I’ve seen a lot of the images you’ve chosen for your board and we have some in common. I am working at doing the same thing, in a way. First I’m beginning to find what defines me, choosing images that evoke an emotion from me. Then I’ll refine it into a board that reflects what I write about. My writing is all set in the early 1900s, so you’ll see a lot of black and white photos. Architectural details fascinate me so I’m collecting some interesting ones. They inspire my writing as well. In my blog I write about women–strong, smart, sexy real women. To someone else my boards may seem unrelated but they are actually tied together quite nicely.
I love the way you think, Justine.


@Tez Miller I waited months for an invitation. It’s a lot easier if you have a friend, one you’re comfortable giving your email address to, who is on Pinterest to invite you…which is what I ended up doing.


Here I was thinking there was something wrong with me, that while I desperately wanted to have Pinterest boards like everyone else, it just wasn’t happening!! I decided last week, that soon I will scrap the boards I have, and compile ones specifically for new artwork that I am doing. Thanks for the affirmation! :)


I’ve started using Pinterest almost this exact same way, as a visual shorthand for ideas and themes in my novel. Sometimes I’ll find an image that works so perfectly I’ll save it with a quote or line of dialogue from my WIP. (Sadly, Pinterest has also become a bit of a distraction, what with all those amazing boots on display. Sometimes a girl just can’t help herself…)


What a fabulous idea! I just signed up and am working on my novel board.


I’ve found that vision boards are excellent once I’ve started figuring out the essence of what I want to say. I cut out images from magazines and arrange and rearrange till I can form them into a poster that I then tack onto my wall. Being able to touch the images themselves and tear, slice, or crop them makes me feel even more interactive. However, I’m very intrigued by Pinterest and have requested an invite.


Many images from my website have been used on Pinterest boards. I often wondered why someone would put the time into creating these. After reading this I understand it isn’t so much a group of items that they wish they owned, but seeing the vintage items bring back fond memories.


Your comment made me smile. I can’t thank you enough for all your badass advice. My post was not meant to offend but rather a veiled attempt at anonymity. Can’t tell you how excited I am to have a JM comment of my own.
Thanks again.


I previously had disorganized folders on my computer with random internet images, and finally transferred it all to Pinterest. I think it’s much easier to see and build upon. Similarly, I also have a crazy amount of playlists, most centered around mood or the atmosphere I need to be in when writing. It’s crazy how much they influence what I’m doing when I’m in the creative zone.


Thanks for this post! I have been on Pinterest for only a short while and yes, it is quite addictive. Not very good for my writing habits. I have made character boards before, per character I have looked for picture to fit with the personality. But the software ALWAYS have been crappy. So I quit doing that, although it helps me very much. So combining an old habit and a new one, it’s great. Thanks again.


In general I don’t like pininterest or tumblr type tools, since it so often loses who actually created certain pieces of content. This is an interesting application you’re describing though.

“raw life material from my years in LA”

ha all we who have spent time in LA have some of this!


This is a very interesting idea. I write mostly poems, but on occasion I work on short stories and flash fiction I can see how your idea would work for almost any creative writing project.

Does anyone else do the same thing with music? Sometimes I organize my listening choices based on what I’m going to be writing.


I’ve just started to play around with Pinterest so this is quite a fascinating idea. I grab a lot of iPhone shots that relate to visual associations with what I’m working on but haven’t thought of putting that together with Pinterest yet. Will have to experiment a little more boldly!


I vision boarded my first few novels into Scrivener, but it’s definitely not as easy to use as Pinterest. Now, I can justify my squandered time on Pinterest as part of my novel brainstorming and research. Thanks for the tips, Justine!


Creating a vision board for my story is exactly what I use Pinterest for! It’s great for that and since I work better with visual reference it’s ideal for me!


“I’ve also lost a lot of illusions, which means that the personal world I am writing both from and about is very different. And some of those changes, I realize now, still had to settle into me before I was equipped to write the novel that I need to write.” Amen. Work that *doesn’t* come from this kind of change (or shift, as in *tectonic*) just doesn’t seem to me to be worth writing (or reading). To be sure, it can make the process slower, or rather, it can make production slower, and if you’re contracted with a press that wants product, you may be in trouble, but the book should be working on you as much as you’re working on it. Go deep, and good luck.


You and your readers may enjoy seeing a free chapter of THE VISION BOARD book on VISIONING which is an ancient art that involves images since the Cave man days– see http://tinyurl.com/seeinsidebook is the Harper Collins site — enjoy. AND YES @visoinboard is now on PINTEREST so we’ll show you how to turn your Pinterest pinning into visioning soon!


Hi there. Love your posts. The only blogger I love more is Gordon White, RuneSoup.com, about chaos magic (well, he posts more often, I guess that’s why). I sent him this post, mostly because I think you both write about the same thing (Check out the Whisky Rant, episode 9). He works for Qype, in the UK, in advertising. Keep up the amazing inspiration!


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