Find a line drawing that you like. It can be the work of a master, a cartoon, anything.
Turn it upside down.
Now, without turning the page right-side up, draw what you see, trying to ignore the subject and focusing strictly on the lines, shades, spaces and proportions of the original.
So in other words, if you're creatively constipated, turn things upside down.
Ms. Edward's rationale is based upon brain research. The brain has two sides (though before 9 a.m. on weekends, neither of my family's sides appear to work), and various commands and characteristics emanate from one side or the other. The left brain thinks in concrete, linear terms, while the right is conceptual and non-linear. Left-brainers are logical; right-brainers are intuitive.
The bottom line is: Creativity flows from right-brain activity. When you have a burst of inginuity, when the lid of your mind's eye is yanked open, or two mutually exclusive ideas suddenly join hands and waltz across the parkay of your noodle, it started in your right hemisphere.
One of the obvious characteristics of great writers is this ability to see things with new eyes -- or to use a tired phrase, think outside the box. In brain parlance, it's writing with the right side of the brain. This ability to re-imagine, to reshuffle the deck of the ordinary, to part the veil of ho-hum that shrouds most modern novels, is essential for writers.
Donald Maass, in his excellent book. Writing the Breakout Novel, says this:
There certainly are no new plots. Not a one. There are also no settings that have not been used, and no professions that have not been given to protagonists. Although human nature may never change, our ways of looking at it will. To break out with familiar subject matter -- and, really, it has all been written about before -- it is essential to find a fresh angle.
To those of us with low-wattage mental light bulbs, these facts can be frustrating. Try as we might, we continue to regurgitate yesterday's best sellers, inflate leaky plotlines and repackage another unwanted white elephant.
I'm currently polishing my first novel, and as I go back through it I can see flashes of brilliance...and lotsa, let's say, 40 watt moments. I've been pondering Maass' call to "find a fresh angle," and it keeps bringing me back to this idea of learning creativity.
But how do we learn creativity? How do we pull ourselves out of the writing rut by our bootstraps? What happens when we read our manuscript or step away from the canvas, only to see the same-old, same-old? Where do we acquire fresh angles?
I've got some ideas stirring which I'd like to doodle about for a couple posts -- ideas that have to do with imagination, ingenuity, and that creative spark we're all trying to run down and bottle.
And in a way, I think it all goes back to this principle of inverting things...turning the real world on its head. According to Ms. Edwards, by doing the upside-down exercise, "you're disabling your left-brain, which can't see or handle such abstractions, and allowing your right-brain to do all the work." In theory, drawing upside-down pictures, disarms our normal mode of thinking and challenges us to see things differently -- in abstraction -- which is a right brain function.
I want to suggest that this drawing exercise is a template for "finding fresh angles." It's not a matter of doing something that has never been done, but looking at what is already there in a new way. If God has called you to write or draw or carve or act, then everything you need to be more creative -- more original -- is already at your disposal. All you need to do is...turn it upside down.
More next post...