It was a winter evening in 2010, and I found myself sitting in a Tim Hortons at College and Spadina, frustrated and confused as to why I was unable to develop an effective, appropriate, and clever strategy for a project I was working on at college. As I sipped away at the swill that is Tim Hortons coffee, I stared into space with a blank look on my face trying to figure out why I was so stumped, tipping slowly into another hole of too-deep-for-words introspection.
“SNAP OUT OF IT!” I silently yelled to my psyche, and immediately I rushed for my bag and pulled out my sketchbook and pen.
I opened up to a blank spread; the world my oyster with a blank canvas expectant to taste my ink. But one strange thing happened in that moment. Typically, I would begin to sketch out random lines that would stir my imagination—far too often scurrying my down a rabbit hole of incomprehensible, yet riveting doodles—but this time I found myself forming letters instead. Letters turned into words and words into sentences, and soon enough I found myself entrenched in concepts and razor-focused strategic thinking. After moments of vigorous writing words unrecognizable to the un-me eye, I stopped, almost needing to catch my breath.
What. Just. Happened?
That was the pivotal moment for me in, not only my college career but my work life today as well. If I hadn’t begun writing, any strategy or concept I would develop would likely be saturated with shallow trends and aesthetic debauchery—the elements of unsuccessful design. I’m not saying starting with sketching is a bad idea, but for work that needs deep consideration, writing at the beginning of the process goes a long way. Think of it as panning for gold. You have all of your thoughts finally visible to you, less of a mess than what they were in your mind. And now you can sift through the dirt and waste to find the gold.
In case you were wondering, the project went really well thanks to my ability to now articulate my vision and strategy, and I was finally able to present the work with a confidence and charisma I had never possessed and the project was an absolute success. It was actually a competition project that we presented to a real client and would result in paid work; I had essentially written for the win.
Now, don’t get me wrong, some people are great at talking about their ideas and will use that to help them better articulate and refine their ideas; their spoken word as their secret weapon. But for those of us who see sparks fly when words hit the page and come to more valuable conclusions by seeing it all laid out, I would suggest that the pen is most definitely mightier.