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Writing on the right

August 1, 2010

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?

Whilst I don’t believe every writer needs to paint, every painter needs to play music, and every musician needs to write, I do feel that the diverse creative paths have much in common, and so can learn from each other.
  1. August 1, 2010 1:25 am

    check out Writing the Natural Way by Gabrielle Rico
    It was a revelation to me.

  2. August 1, 2010 5:11 am

    Oh wow so true! I didn’t think of it that way, and it explains a lot. 🙂

  3. August 1, 2010 8:23 am

    Paul – this post is simply brilliant. Spoke to me in so many ways.

    Thanks for the kick

  4. August 1, 2010 12:53 pm

    I’m with Annie — brilliant post, and just what I needed at this stage in my writing. Wonderful insights.

  5. August 1, 2010 1:02 pm

    Holly Lisle’s “How to Think Sideways” course is fantastic for drawing both sides of the mind, the Me and the Muse, together. 🙂

  6. adampb permalink
    August 1, 2010 4:43 pm

    Well, two out of three ain’t bad: writing and music (well, drums, but we’ll let that one through as a muso on a technicality). I’m now encouraged to pick up a pencil again and have a go at some drawing.

  7. August 1, 2010 7:58 pm

    I think the book “Writing Alone and With Others” ( really helps mature the writer. It changes the way you think about your writing, and really helps you to write compelling prose.

  8. August 2, 2010 3:32 am

    I’m with you Adam… I have not picked up anything vaguely of the art creation genre since I was working in magazine editing. I hung out with lots of talented artists and pushed my boundaries to produce some work too.

    I feel the cringe of the childlike symbols Paul talks about – part of the reason I picked up a paintbrush last time and not a pencil.

    I’m looking forward to investigating some of the book suggestions here. Thanks Paul, and thanks everyone who suggested one.

  9. August 3, 2010 6:39 pm

    I’ve read a lot of books about being the “best” of a particular field. Chess & Tai Chi (The Art of Learning, anything by Anthony Robbins and sports (basketball, cricket etc.) The one recurrent theme I always noticed is the concepts of drills.

    I did a “Drawing on the Right Side” instructor based course and the class always began with the ‘draw you hand’ exercise as a way to get your mind in flow.

    Basketballers will shoot hoops.

    Don Bradman used to hit a golf ball against a wall with a cricket stump.

    So I’m curious, what are your writer drills? What is the writing equivalent of a tennis player practising their serve? Or an graphic designer who doodles on the side of a napkin? Or a musician practising scales?

  10. August 4, 2010 10:38 pm

    @Christian — In my mind, I think writing flash fiction is a way to get in the flow, as you say. It’s a quick exercise that gets the creativity flowing. The prompts suggest ideas I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. That creativity spills over into the rest of my writing. It’s one reason I try to participate as much as I can.

    How’s that for an unsolicited plug, Write Anything?

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