Yesterday, I spent 12 hours filing my taxes. My tabletop is cluttered with enough tax forms to Papier–mâché Randi’s face, which I can then hang on the wall in gratitude for her help in tracking down the many forms I needed to complete and for occasionally bringing me plates of food and glasses of water. If this all sounds overly dramatic, that’s because it is. I was determined to file my taxes with the appropriate forms, which I’d acquired from the public library. It was tedious, mind-numbing work that required me to learn another language. Tax language. I wish I would say that I am now well-versed, but about four hours ago, I gave up and used Free Tax USA. Advice for those out there: don’t follow my lead.
Where am I going with this? At this point, you may be expecting me to suddenly give you some tax-inspired prompts (ack!) or advocate the importance of undergoing tedium (no more!), but at the end of this minutia, I find myself thinking about my poor neglected right brain.
For those who can’t remember: two hemispheres in the brain, right? The left and the right. The left hemisphere is our logical side. It thinks in words and spreadsheets and taxes. The right hemisphere is our creative side. It thinks in images. It is illogical, magical, wonderful. You are exercising different parts of the brain at any given time, but the left side tends to dominate because our world is moving more and more in logic’s direction (Logic, after all, is just so logical…). Overtime, that left side can take over. We, as writers and artists, have to keep that left side in check.
Why do we want to access the right hemispheref? Easy: it is the place where writing is easiest. You know you are in the right hemisphere when time disappears and you lose track of your surroundings. It is the place when you stop worrying about the act of writing and become engrossed in the story itself. The words disappear. Image takes over. It is the writer’s sweet spot.
A lot of artists resort to drugs or alcohol because it allows for quick access to this creative vault, but you can get there in other ways, too. Meditation or dream-work are good tools for the writer. But, I would argue, you can also draw.
Betty Edwards’ book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, uses the understanding of the right and left hemispheres of the brain to teach students the drawing process. Unlike a “how to” book that might focus on the act of drawing, Edwards emphasizes the importance of seeing. Such focus allowed her students to make drastic improvements in their craft in a very short amount of time. Rather than thinking about planning or perfection, Edwards teaches her students to move what they see into what they create by training the eye first and letting the hand follow. Art, after all, comes from how the mind interprets what is seen, which is (and should be) unique from what everyone else sees. She advocates for simple drawing exercises to aid this process along. Her students do this to help them enter into the creative space for visual work, but these exercises help the writing process as well.
And so, in honor of Betty Edwards, the right side of our brains, and my recently filed taxes, here are a few exercises (I got them from Randi, but I think they are Edwards’…) to help you access the creative side of yourself faster. The key, of course, is to move from the drawing to your own writing. I’ve been doing this the last few days and have found it quite phenomenal.
Drawing Exercise #1:
Draw your own hand. Look only at your hand and not the paper. Remember that the left brain will get impatient. It will say, why bother doing this. it will say, this is a waste of time because the left brain worries about things like time. Recognize this is a left brain worry, and draw through it. Go very slowly. Move your pen in the shape of the lines, and try to get them all. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when you notice the lines and not your hand. Do this for at least 10 minutes.
Drawing Exercise #2:
Find a moderately complicated line drawing. I’ve been using random images from M. Scott Momaday’s Way to Rainy Mountain. Turn the image upside down, and now draw. Again, go slow, focus on the lines. Try and move your pen at the same rate that you move your eye along each sweep and curve. Just like in Exercise #1, you’ll start to batter yourself, you’ll wonder why you are doing this, you might even start to make fun of me, or worry that I’m doing this as a joke, but draw through these as well. Draw until you see the lines and not the image. Do this for at least 10 minutes.
Word Exercise #3:
This one is exercise in free association. Take a word, any word, and build on it. Start, for instance, with “snow,” and play with it. Let the list grow: “know,” “blow,” “joe,” etc. Let it move to wherever it wants, like “paper” might suddenly appear and you don’t know why. Write it down and follow it the way you would follow a line.. As soon as a sentence wants to come out, let it. Keep going. Don’t try to make sense. Don’t think, now I am going to make this into a poem (that’s your left side trying to rationalize the act). Let yourself be free, illogical, random. Again, do this for at least 10 minutes.