Writing on the right
This week I began reading Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. One of the first exercises is to create three drawings: a self-portrait (left), a drawing of someone from memory, and a drawing of your hand.
The drawing from memory was incredibly difficult, a fact acknowledged by Betty Edwards, the author of the book. The purpose of the task was to bring forth the memorised symbols we practised over and over during childhood.
A comparison with the self-portrait, drawn from observation rather than imagination, would reveal whether you are using those same symbols when you are meant to be observing.
This is why, when adults who are unused to drawing begin to draw, the result is often “childish”. We draw using the symbolism we learned from a young age to create archetypes, rather than an image of what is actually there.
Rather than “childish” I would describe such images as “immature”, not in a pejorative sense, rather in the sense of the novice, one acting without experience and lacking the finesse of the expert.
So too with writing. When adults begin to write, they often produce “immature” work: a reflexive use of adverbs; substitution of the word “said” with every available synonym; and telling rather than showing. Many of these actions, traits of weak writing, are the half-remembered ideas of how to write gathered from our childhood. We are told the Witch is Wicked, and the Wolf is Big and Bad. We are told every verb needs an adverb. At my school, we were banned from using the word “said” as it was “boring”; and so we whispered, shouted, exclaimed and roared.
As adults however this level of writing is unsatisfactory. It is basic and lacks the maturity to grasp the nuances of the more complex rules of grammar, and the experience to judge when to discard the rules for effect.
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain matures the artist. I wonder if there is an equivalent for writers. The best I could think of would be Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, or Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.
Is there a Writing on the Right Side of the Brain? Should there be?