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To Write Better, Draw Badly

TO WRITE BETTER, DRAW BADLY

Kathy Louise Schuit


My mother always painted. As kids, wherever Mom took us, she also brought canvas, easel, a wooden paints box, and the scent of linseed oil. She painted while we swam, she painted while we learned to play instruments, she painted when we misbehaved and she couldn't take it any longer. But she never shared this passion with us. Painting was hers and hers alone. After Mom passed away, some of her brushes, palette knives and pencils became mine. I had no idea what to do with them.

By age 12, I had decided I could be a writer but any drawing talent I might have possessed never matured past the stage of a three-year-old with a crayon.

Still, holding on to the possibility of a connection with my mother, I suddenly wanted to learn to draw.

Obviously, I needed help.

I turned to Amazon. My “learning to draw” search rewarded me with several prospects. The one that spoke to me was Betty Edwards – Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. She had my attention at the Introduction, where she says, “The course is designed for persons who cannot draw at all, who feel they have no talent for drawing, and who believe that they can never learn to draw.” Yep. That's me.

According to Betty, I didn't need to learn the rules of drawing so much as to re-learn how to notice the world around me.

I was free to break rules that I didn't even know, to just have fun, to remember the smell of linseed oil.

I embarked on drawing with zero thoughts of acquiring fame, fortune or even the approval of my family for anything I drew. I knew my depictions lacked form or style, but it pleased me to make them and that's all I expected.

Months later, struggling with a novel that I'd been working on with a friend, I decided to stop trying to sort out how to get just the right words on paper and to draw instead.

My mind quieted. It wandered. It played with ideas, ideas for the sunflower petals forming under my fingers, ideas for dinner, ideas for the novel...

The exact words I needed for the novel flooded into my mind.

Having had past experience with sudden bursts of brilliance (usually while driving) I knew how quickly they can disappear back to the mysterious place from whence they come so I didn't waste time looking for a real pencil. Instead, I tightened my grip on the fat charcoal stick in my hand and started writing. The sunflower disappeared under a torrent of words. I flipped the page over and filled it. I pulled out another sheet of drawing paper, then another. In fifteen minutes, the chapter I'd been struggling with for weeks was finished. It didn't have commas or periods or, for that matter, capitals. For possibly the first time in my life, I didn't care. I liked it. That's all that mattered.

This was revelation!

The demon we all know as the editor/critic has always had strong claws in me, but I've fought back. My copies of Natalie Goldberg – Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, and Anne Lamott – Bird By Bird, are so dogeared that the poor, torn-off corners now just serve as pointy bookmarks.

I am ever grateful to these brilliant writers for sharing their processes with me, but now I think that, until I read Betty Edwards' book and tried to draw, I never truly learned to set my mind aside so that my real

self could create.

My new writing process starts with drawing. This exercise reminds me that all I need to do to write well is give up everything I think I know about writing well.

With more drawing practice, I hope to eventually let go of sentence structure, to never again feel that prickly there's a preposition at the end of a sentence sensation, to write with more consideration for my characters than for commas, to regain the wonder for the world that I had when I was three and to write what makes me happy...with crayons.

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