Or: How I think about writing my books, without words getting in the way

This is a picture of Isolde. Or at least a version of Isolde. She doesn’t ride a cow at any point in Salt Lick. Making pictures like this helps me write my novels. Not so I know what characters or places look like – this isn’t quite the Isolde of my mind’s eye. It is an impression of her. It helps me to think about my writing, without words getting in the way.

I often talk in my art classes about visual thinking. I can’t quote any science to clarify or prove this but it is for me a reasonable description of what happens when we make art: I loath the phrase ‘being in the zone’ but my guess is that something similar to what is meant by it happens when drawing or painting is going reasonably well. We are thinking, but wordlessly. We are thinking visually. There is clear intention and engagement, and the mental chatter is gone. It is precise, balanced; it feels viable and weightless. I don’t think it is The Zone of fantastical achievement and personal development goals (ugh) but it is a zone. The calm at the turn of the tide, perhaps. 

It feels like respite, like a healthy state. 

Words drive me round the bend. The roiling, relentless scrabble of them. I get so bored of the churning in my own head. Sometimes it feeling like a harm. Drawing and picture making bring respite, a wordless hiatus.

Perhaps writing too is a relief from the unruly flood. The chance to direct and shape words, to bank, channel and direct the flow. To paddle or swim (after all, I’m never going to drown in writing; only perhaps in the danger of expectations unmet, and the financial woes of working in the arts.) But sometimes it feels like words, on their own terms, could sweep me away. 

It is difficult, writing a book. And though I know it is not perilous, it can feel awfully close to being impossible, to being something that will beat me. Perhaps because I no longer feel the desire (other than teaching) to make my career in visual art, picture making is a refuge and an ally, both for my writing mind and for my unoccupied and over-run mind that just wants to take a break. 

I’m trying to learn meditation too … If a resource called Meditation for Impatient, Overthinking Idiots exists, send me a link. 

if you are interested in my book Salt Lick as it nears publication on September 16th, why not sign up to my occasional newsletter? Your name will go into a prize draw to win another original piece of cow art. And you will be first to hear of other giveaways and prize draws on the way.

One thought on “Becalmed

  1. What you describe is like meditating, as far as I can understand. And yes, mark making does this for me too. You cannot really think (talk to yourself in your mind) when focussed on art making. However, I can also get quite stressed making art – but mostly this happens when I do not have the confidence of the outcome , ie when I am trying to draw and it is not going well, or trying to get a colour and I cannot figure out how to reach what I want. Same kind of anxiety I guess as looking into the future. If I am only in the moment and not caring about the outcome, then it reaches your description well. But I think you are right about it being visual thinking because after two hours intense class for instance, I am tired. It is not doing nothing cause it is so focussed.


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