Tuesday, February 4, 2014

On Drawing and Writing

Last semester, Max took an art class. He has a sketchbook full of practice art and it's uncanny how similar the process is for writing. It's sifting, sorting through the information, looking at it from different angles, until you finally decide what it is you want to shine a spotlight on.
In the ICL course, we devote two lessons solely to developing the skills of observation, one is to describe a place from the past, and another is to observe a child and then make up a story. I find that even the weak students really shine at the memory exercise. We ask for specific details and almost everybody comes through. If someone is experiencing writer's block, I tell them to sit down and write what is in front of them. Ground yourself in the concrete. Don't even try to remember a thing. What is amazing is how quickly one thing leads to another and the person is writing with greater confidence. But it begins in the concrete. Our story people need flesh and blood and need to interact with other flesh and blood characters and their environment. Stories have to be rooted in physicality.
When I do workshops with kids, I ask them to focus on concrete objects, their space and their relationship to it. I have them draw maps. And when I work with really little kids, we draw what I call a "small moment" and try to write a sentence. And it was volunteering in the kindergarten/1st grade classrooms that I discovered how important it is for me to do the same. Draw and then write. Drawing helps you to pay more attention to the details. I don't have a sketchbook like Max, but I am an inveterate doodler, drawing patterns and faces, maps and places, in my notebook. As I look at Max's drawings, I am convinced I should do more of it. By the way, he is also an excellent writer!
Small moments. A story is made up of many small moments (scenes). And I've found storyboarding to be a powerful tool. I learned from Carolyn Coman to not only draw the major action of the moment, but to write the primary emotion so that we could track the emotional journey as well.
What about you? Do you enjoy drawing? Do you create maps and storyboards? What other activities or artistic endeavors do you find enormously helpful in your writing life? Curious minds want to know.


Faith E. Hough said...

Maybe because I'm married to an artist, I'm hesitant to draw much. (I need to get over that, as he is only encouraging.) But every so often when I'm stuck in my writing, I'll doodle for twenty minutes or so, and it always opens up little doors in my brain...
I love Max's work. He's a hard-working kid.

Mirka Breen said...

Max is a photographer and draws, too? I see a mother/son collaboration coming out one of these days.
When writing PBs I leave the description-button on the OFF setting, and allow the artist their place. I only wish that artist was me... Go Max!

Jenni Enzor said...

I've always seen a connection to drawing and writing. I've only taken a few art classes, but what stood out to me is that good art is about seeing clearly and conveying what you see on the page, just like with writing.(Not that I'm much of an artist--but I love painting and drawing.)
I loved what you said about the physicality of writing in your exercises with students. I'm going to have to try that the next time I'm stuck.

Vijaya said...

Faith, you could pick his brain! Or hands! Funny how doodling opens up doors, no? My hands know more than my brain ... when I was a scientist, it was through doodling that I discovered the way to find the answers to my questions. Maybe this is why piano playing gets me unstuck as well.

Mirka, I'd love to collaborate on a book with Max!!! It's a dream.

Jenni, on clarity -- it's exactly what you said! I hope you will shoot for the concrete next time you're stuck.

Marcia said...

I create maps, floor plans, room layouts, and the like to show how my characters live in their spaces.

I drew well as a child. I even won a contest on TV! Somehow, past the age of 8 or 10 I never progressed much, although I did take a drawing class in college.

Come to think of it, my writing took off after my drawing arrested.

Maybe we should be less hard on kids who doodle in class. (Sigh)

Vijaya said...

Marcia, we definitely need to let our kids doodle. I was sitting next to an artist at a book signing once and doodling ... and she said that even if the kid is doodling something that is completely unrelated to what is being taught, it is the drawing that helps the kid remember stuff. I think it must fire more synapses ...

And how neat you won a drawing contest!!! Anyway, you'll have to give it a go if you ever get stuck on something. Let your hand find the way.

Anonymous said...

Nice drawings! I used to love drawing and keep meaning to get back to it.