Wordless Rest

FullSizeRender-4This is an in-progress drawing that’s been living on my desk the past week. It was a thin watercolor sketch from a photo I shot last summer, which I decided at the time didn’t appeal much. Somehow, I found it and started messing around with some excellent pens I found last summer when Mel Scott and I wandered around (one of) the gigantic Blick’s stores in New York.  It’s not meant to be great art; I’m posting it to show you how my creative process is evolving.

As I posted last week, I’ve been working with great focus on the Restoration project, Whi
tehall,** set in the court of Charles II of England, one of the most fascinating characters to ever hold the throne. I love everything about this era–the people and the clothes and the world hurtling from the old into the new. It was a time of burgeoning knowledge in the sciences, particularly “natural philosophy” an early term for the observation and recording of the natural world, in all arenas from medicine to botany, for which Charles also had a passion.The Royal Society, one of the world’s most revered scientific communities, had its first meetings at this time.

And who could help but love the brilliant, rakish, doomed John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester?

When I agreed last summer to do the project, I had a thimble-full of history about the era, which has meant fervid immersion in all things Restoration, which is a lot of intense mental work. Which is one of the reasons I became a writer, frankly–there’s nothing I love more than learning all about something–but it’s hard work. Tiring. I have to take breaks, look away, change both my mental focus and my visual focus.

So I’ve been painting and drawing more. I write/research for an hour, then spent ten or fifteen or twenty minutes drawing, painting, scribbling. Something. It moves my brain into a completely different mode, entirely non-verbal but also laser focused. Every molecule of my attention goes into the shape of a line, a petal, a shadow, this very minute portion of the work. Which is like writing in a way, of course–you can only write the sentence at hand.

But behind each sentence in a novel are dozens, maybe hundreds, of bits of information. Fifth grade grammar class and the research from how gardens were arranged and where they were located to the shoes of the characters and her undergarments and how her hair was curled and what how the fabric moved and the relative positions of the players and what I wrote in the former scene and what’s coming later. It’s a lot of heavy lifting.

A line is particular, but it is particular to itself and this drawing or painting. I am only interested in how it shapes this page. I suppose there is a lot behind that line I draw, the colors I choose, other studies I’ve made, classes I’ve taken, but it’s not words. For this writer, I suppose that’s the thing. There are no words in painting. I love to read and I love to write, but sometimes that part of my brain just gets very tired. That’s why I cook. That’s why I garden. And now, that’s why I paint and draw.

If you work with words, what are your tricks for resting your brain? If you work in other ways, do you need a different kind of rest? 

**The first episode of Whitehall will be released in mid-May. Sign up for my newsletter if you want to be sure to be reminded when it begins.

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2 thoughts on “Wordless Rest

  1. Candice Royer

    I beta/proof/copy/content edit for indie authors. I love it, but oh my (insert string of swearing), I’ve had to tell several, flat out, it’s time they take a grammar class – a refresher to help them understand the difference between not using a comma somewhere because of voice and not using it because it’s bad grammar. Two days ago, I got, “Could you copy and paste an example of this so called comma splice?” She didn’t even know what one was. When I responded, she said she relied on her editors to fix those things, and that all beta books are s*&t. NO. No, not all beta books are, and that’s a poor excuse not to learn where to properly use a comma. So I gave her webpages for resources, told her to invest in a Chicago Manual of Style, and also to learn how to combine documents in Word so that she can use more than one editor. An editor who, by the way, also does not know the proper use of commas.
    When I was finished with her, I turned on a TV show on the DVR, grabbed my colored pencils, and began coloring. That’s my release. I color. I might be 41, but making beautiful colors come together in a picture – no mandalas, I want interesting – makes me feel good. I never stopped coloring from when I was a little girl, I just usually colored with my nieces. Now I have my own coloring books again, and I like it.
    I’ll play with photography on my cell phone, but rarely. Give me Crayola Crayons, a better brand of colored pencil, rarely markers, and I’m happy.

  2. Not being a super-drawing-type, I’ve actually embraced the adult coloring books when I CANNOT LOOK AT ANOTHER WORD. Between writing and social media and the reading-for-pleasure, I’m surrounded by words but definitely need a break occasionally. And when you have to do research on top of it, it can all get a little overwhelming. Long walks with no music. Movies that have nothing to do with anything. Going somewhere new.

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