I’ve been a teacher for over 15 years. I wrote my first story 35 years ago and illustrated it with a pack of crayons.
And if you think I'm about to tell you a story of myself as a child prodigy with an easy history of writing, drawing and creating stuff?
I’m going to have to disappoint you.
Writing—and pretty much everything academic—was a shocking struggle for me growing up. I had it all—poor small muscle control, illegible handwriting… “creative spelling .” As a child, no one could figure out why it was so hard for me. I went through a battery of tests, learned I was “not dyslexic.” Like so many others, I struggled on.
And my difficulties? They never went away—I just became an expert at working around them I’d say I learned to spell consistently in my late 20’s (woot!). My hands still don’t always obey me when I’m writing or drawing. And I relived my difficulties with the written word when I started reading and writing intensively in my second language (French) as an adult.
When I studied “Mild to Moderate Learning Disabilities” for my teaching credential, I could understand what people are going through when they struggle in school—on the most personal level.
Why am I sharing this short list of odd “things you didn’t know about me” right now?
Because it’s about you too.
I’d like to share a small part of what helped me keep going and make it through when I was young and even today: getting visual as a writer. Finding (clinging) even to that messy, tactile and artistic way of knowing the world.
It’s what’s allowed me to embark on so many adventures of the written word—despite often feeling like school and all of our traditional ways of learning simply weren’t for me. If you’ve been there, this is for you.
I know you can do it because I did.
A side note to those who’ve had an ‘easier time’ with writing.
If you’re thinking you’ve been doing just fine with your writing all this time and have never had to battle the creative spelling monster or search for your words before they’ll come to the page…
Are you so sure you’re not missing something?
In my humble opinion, I think maybe you might have been shortchanged just a little too.
If you're reading this, you're drawn to adventures of the written word. You love to read, and you're either writing…or dreaming of it.
You know that writing is so much more than telling an entertaining story. It's something you do to connect, to express yourself. Writing is something deeper, something you do only for yourself, something transformative. Something fun. A place you go, a refuge.
These are the things that are so true, you barely need to think about them.
So today, what if we talked about a much less intuitive part of your writing process?
Something that might you might be missing out on as a writer—whether you’ve been writing for decades or are just trying to work up the courage to start.
Let’s dig in and explore 5 reasons why, as someone who loves to write, you may need to grab your crayons and some messy paint—and explore your visual side.
One: It's hard to take yourself too seriously with crayons in your hand.
Or your favorite markers or brush pens for that matter. Really, the materials make a difference. I've been surprised at how true it is for me--and after talking to many of you in our community, I know I'm not alone.
There is a strong likelihood that you've learned all kinds of bad lessons about the way your writing 'should be.' Someone told you not to do it that way--that you had to make your outline first, that your writing was rubbish or just full of errors.
But, probably...no one ever looked at you when you had a pack of crayons in your hand and told you your color theory was off. Or that your dog had 5 legs. And if they did?
At that age, you probably knew better than to care.
Coloring, crayons, the smell of paint (from your childhood) your favorite colors… and not taking yourself seriously brings your anxiety down just. like. that.
For example…I get so worried about everything on my ‘to do’ list that I can barely stand to plan ahead. But then I found this cool coloring planner…and suddenly, well, here I am, well on my way to planning April
If fear is stopping you in your tracks during your writing (or before you even start)? Reach for your colors, even if it seems silly. especially if it seems silly.
Two: Because Mindful, Creative Play will save you when you're stuck.
And what writer has never been stuck? I mean, the ideas seem to come out of thin air. How does that wisp of a story or poem find its way from your journal to your finished draft?
There will be days when you realize as you're writing that you can't go any farther. You don't have the ideas, for now.
When that happens? I have a lot of strategies--I walk, bake, swim, garden... and I draw, color and doodle.
Don't make the mistake of thinking your drawing has to be pretty or purposeful--on the contrary. You'll want something easy to pick up and put down, something pleasing to work on, to keep your hands and eyes busy while your mind wanders. That's one of my favorite secret ingredients for getting unstuck as a writer...
Three: Because you see your ideas before you write.
Look, I talk to so many people about their writing and there is this kind of scary stage that most of us will probably recognize: the ideas floating in your head seem random, unconnected, disordered.
That's not a mess you can turn into a blog post, story or poem. What to do?
Spill your thoughts onto the page and 'see what you've got.'
When you brainstorm on the page in a visual way with the words and maybe images scattered here and there, you release yourself from having to find the order, the first, then, next--the main point.
It's just you and your ideas. The image above? It’s actually step two for me—so I can see where my blog post is going. The one before that is a messy tangle of words. And that’s ok too. Don’t skip the mess or the brush pens…
Four: Because drawing and doodling will teach you the essential lesson of being a writer.
One of the most beautiful parts of watching other writers grow over time? You can see other people's writing improve so much more easily than you can see your own writing changing.
The quiet truth is this:
If you keep up writing long enough to check back on your early work and compare with what rolls out of your pen now?
It might look kind of... embarrassing. And that’s a fun problem to have.
With writing, you do have to know what to look for a little to see your improvement.
But with your coloring, doodling, and drawing? The progress will just be staring back at you from the page.
Try the same kind of doodle, sketch or coloring activity 3-4 times in a row and compare your efforts.
It will teach you the first thing you need to know about writing: that it's all about showing up for some creative play--repeatedly.
Five, because we don't all think and learn the same way--and so often we forget it.
This is a big one. And we're getting dangerously close to my 'nerd zone' where I could talk for a LONG time about research and theories about the way we learn and think--and our amazing and diverse brains. Some of that's a story for another day, but here's an idea for all of us, right now:
Some of us have brains that need visuals, art, doodles, and mind maps to make sense of the world. Some of us just can't create (or live) without it.
If your one of those people, well, 'turning on the pictures' can change the way you write and think about writing.
And if you're not someone who needs to 'see' what you're going to write? Don’t think this doesn’t apply to you. You know who you are…
So often in school we're only taught one way of finding our words--the way that works for 75% of us. And maybe you did just fine with that method. Maybe you're already quite the writer.
Now here comes the huge but :)
Did anyone teach you to connect with your emotions when you were writing your research or learning all the comma rules?
Did anyone help you figure out how to be unique? Yourself? Make creative leaps? Follow the grain of an idea to a surprising new place?
I’ve been to lots of school and I’ve taught it for many years in two different countries, with students from all over the globe and of every age and in two languages.
And what’s the default? To cheat ourselves out of the creative process.
So you may not even realize what you've been missing. You might just be surviving as a writer the way you survived the educational system.
What about picking up the crayons, the paints? What about making creative leaps?
What about thriving as a writer, a creative, and just as a person?
Who knows where it will lead. But I can promise you one thing:
You will have fun.