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.