MY JUNE GOALS FOR LIFE FULFILLMENT
1. Draw something every day
2. Learn about art
3. Read blogs and learn how to promote my own
A few days before I revealed my Newest Life Plan, I had a complete melt-down on the phone with Paul. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” I whimpered. “Maybe I’m just not a very good writer. Maybe I don’t have what it takes to write novels.”
I’ve read interviews with authors who say they always felt like they had this book inside of them they just had to get out. “What if I don’t have a book inside of me?” I asked. “Maybe this whole thing is stupid and I should just give up and do something else.”
By this point, I was bawling and had to keep telling Paul to hold on a minute while I blew my nose. Snot and tears were everywhere, and when I looked in the mirror my face was blotchy and swollen.
“I know you can do it. You’re a good writer,” Paul said. But amidst all his kind, encouraging words, there was something else he said that really pierced me. “It seems like you’re trying to find the easy way out, and there isn’t one. Doing what you’re doing is going to be really hard, no matter what.”
I was trying to find the easy way out. I started crying harder. Not because it was a mean thing for him to say, but because it was true.
* * *
Recently I’ve been working my way through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Instead of Drawing with Children, which is more of an emotional approach to drawing, Edwards teaches a psychological approach, which suits me better. (I was a Psychology major at William and Mary and have a serious weak spot for the subject.)
The premise of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is that most of us are dominated by our left brain skill set: language, logic, and analytic/sequential thinking. When we try to draw, our left brain takes over, even though the right brain (which houses visual, spatial, and intuitive skills) is more adept for the task.
The trick is to learn how to shut down your left brain and let the right brain do the drawing. For example, when drawing a hand, the left brain will shout that’s a finger!, which will call up an analysis of what a finger should look like, and not what the one you’re drawing actually looks like. Your right brain, on the other hand, can simply draw what it sees. Edwards says that her system is about “learning to perceive” and learning how to shift from the left brain to the right brain. Learning to draw, she claims, can help you “gain access at a conscious level to your inventive, intuitive powers that have been largely untapped by our verbal, technological culture.”
One of the first exercises in the book is upside-down drawing. When looking at a picture upside down, the left brain becomes confused because it cannot easily name the image. The right brain, however, is at home, seeing shapes and angles and areas of light versus shadow. Drawing upside down can facilitate the left-right shift and help you create a better, more accurate drawing.
OK, great theory. So on Saturday I tried to do the first upside-down drawing – a Picasso sketch. I was fine at first, but as I got to the hands (even upside down, I could tell they were hands), I started getting really confused. The two sides of my brain were fighting against each other, and I felt frustrated. My drawing was starting to look like a big, old mess: I had all of these lines and curves, but I worried they weren’t going to match up right. I didn’t know how to keep going, and I worried that the entire thing sucked.
At that point, I had a really strong desire to do one of the following:
1. Give up and draw something else – something easier
2. Just finish really fast and sloppy, without actually trying my best
I probably would have chosen one of those options if it wasn’t for this blog. No, no, I told myself. I have to have something good to show on my blog. That’s when I realized I had a third option: take a break. Finish tomorrow when I’ve replenished my stores of energy and patience.
Already drawing has been good for me. For one thing, it’s teaching me how I deal with challenges. That moment when I was about to give up on the Picasso sketch was so indicative of my attitude with writing. When things get confusing, messy, or frustrating, I have this inclination to give up and start over. I want things to come easy, and when they don’t, I have to really fight against the desire to throw out the challenge and find something on which I can have immediate, simple success.
But now I have a strategy to fight this habit: take a breather. Step away from my writing and come back later with a full tank of patience. It won’t make it easier, but I’ll be better equipped to handle the challenge.
When I write fiction, I write the story first, and I worry about what it means later. Usually, I don’t know what the deeper symbology is as I’m writing. I just create characters, make them do and say stuff, and then, when I get to the end of the story, I usually notice that there’s some sort of deeper theme.
On the phone, when I was having my melt down, Paul asked me what I loved about writing. I stopped crying and began to expound on all the many things I love about it.
Maybe writing is like the upside-down exercise. First you concentrate on capturing the shape of the story, and the areas of light and dark. It’s not until the end, when you flip it over, that the overall meaning is revealed. That’s just one of the many things I love about writing. The magic and delight of creating something that seems greater than the sum of its parts.
There’s no easy way out, but I think it’s worth the challenge.
On Sunday I finished my Picasso sketch. My right brain is getting stronger every day.