I recently attended a life drawing class. In preparation, I dropped by a local art store, asked a lot of questions, and left with a few pencils, a sketchbook, and a book on how to draw figures. I’m not a visual artist, have never had any interest in being an artist, and have never had any art training. Much of the little I know comes from Bugs Bunny, like this explanation of pointillism:
So what was I doing at a life drawing class? Learning to write.
Writing is hard. I’ve had college classes on the subject, attended workshops, read books on writing, read books, and revised a lot. All of that has helped, but there’s still so much I don’t know. Like how to describe a person sitting with their back to you, in a way that is interesting and original. Exactly where are their arms? What muscles are visible? What curves are obvious? Where are the shadows? I hoped two hours looking at a person in different positions, and trying to capture those details visually, would help me notice those details. It did. It’s going to take more than two hours, but I’m already more confident about describing bodies.
I also learned the folly of attempting to draw an entire person in 15 or 30 minutes, especially when are you trying to remember the proportioning rules from your how-to-draw book. I had more luck drawing when I focused on one limb, or one area, such as the upper back. And it’s one area that a character might observe, such as how the back muscles bunch and stretch depending on the position of the head. For short poses, only a minute long, the best I could do was sketch a sense of person’s position – and again, that’s often all that’s needed for a written description. The time limited poses helped me focus on what was important.
Exploring creativity in different artistic pursuits is a common habit of several writers I know, and other writers. It’s a break, and a chance to exercise other parts of your brain and body. I like taking pictures, trying to capture key aspects of landscapes in the same way I was trying to capture the body at the drawing class. I’m also partial to writing limericks, which are good warm-up exercises for writing. (Blog posts are another exercise.) Since books can take months or years, it’s also fun to tackle a creative project that can be completed in a short period of time.
It’s important for everyone to learn new things. It keeps the brain healthy, and for writers, it gives you more material. Last year I drafted a romance novel where the main character is an artist. When I revise it, I can use what I learned from my little excursion into the art world.
If you are trying to write, try new things, and try being creative in other media and formats. You’ll gather material, meet new people (potential readers are good, no matter how introverted you are), and stretch your creative muscles. With a little sketch stretch, and a warm up blog post, I’m feeling ready for more work on the novel marathon.