When you’re trying to write (and yes the emphasis is on the word “trying” here) but it’s just not working well, there are many different things you could do. Some of those things involve taking a break from writing and doing something else for a while, such as going for a walk. Painting—whether you have an ounce of talent or not—is one of the best ways to get a person going again.
Getting you out of the left brain for a while is what does the trick. You may be caught up on some detail or the sequencing process may be jammed, and a system reset may be just what you need to spark creativity.
Everyone uses both the left brain and the right brain, although it’s true that most people tend to use one more than the other. People often say, “I’m a left-brained person, so I need words, details, logic,” or, “I’m a right-brainer. Statistics and I don’t get along; how about you help me see the big picture?” Some people are naturally balanced between the two. Using both cranial brains is a skill that can be developed.
There are some misconceptions about which brain does what, and I’m not going to get into that here. Suffice it to say that for the purposes of creating, the left brain is more concerned with details and sequences and the right brain is more holistic; it sees the larger picture and how things fit into it: the Gestalt, the whole.
When we are trying to write and it’s just not working, it may be because we’re stuck in the left brain and the system needs to regain some balance. Getting into the right brain for a while brings that balance. For me, it is like kick-starting a motorcycle. I might paint one page in my art notebook and then get an idea and go back to writing (or editing), or it may be after I’ve done three. Paint one (stomp the kick-lever). Paint another (kick). Paint anoth-and here we go! But please understand, I don’t say to myself, “Gee, I’m having a hard time thinking here, so I think I’ll paint for a while and get a good idea.” Nothing like that. I do say, “Man, I need a break! Time to switch gears.” And I’ll paint for a while, to get out of the thinking mode. No words for a while.
Visual art is usually a right-brained activity. I say “usually,” because some of us can turn just about anything into a left-brained activity. A left-brained painting experience would involve analyzing, thinking in words, planning it out sequentially, and talking to oneself, perhaps. Do artists do that? Sure. Many do. Most do at one time or another. Quality paintings do follow at least some rules. I’m not talking about producing a quality painting. What I want you to do is much simpler, and much more freeing.
Spark creativity with color
I want you to spread some paint around and make nothing. That’s right: paint nothing. You’re not going to make a landscape or a portrait or anything else that’s real.
The only rule is to enjoy the colors. Take delight in how they look.
Enjoy the feel of spreading the thick paint across your paper. How smoothly does it go? Use a palette knife. How does it scrape and scratch? Stroke and flick and spounce and scrub and swirl. Feel the tension in your body melting as you enjoy the paint like a child would: just for being spreadable color.
When you find yourself getting stuck or feeling stressed out, just grab some cheap paint, a brush, and some paper (I use Canson mixed media art notebooks, but you can use copy paper if you need to). Spread some paint around on the paper, and enjoy the happy sighs that come from you. Sometimes, something that looks like a painting may result; you may find yourself creating a background and a foreground, but there is no need for that kind of thing to happen. You may feel like writing right away, and you may not. Later, though, when you do sit down to write, you may find that things just work better.
Premade designs to color
If you like more structure, try coloring or painting a premade design. Remember that you need to get away from conscious thinking for a while, so use one that is already made for you. For a large selection of designs, try one of the coloring books for adults that my husband created. Playing with color to help balance my brain is something I’ve done for a long time, thanks in part to his creations. Now you can make use of them, too.
I wonder how soon doing some kind of relaxing art will help you.
More on getting past writer’s block