Interlude: On Doodling

Alternate Title: Confessions of a Compulsive Doodler

Two months into my first year of college, I missed art already. I missed having the opportunity to engage in the creative process and make things that made people go, “Wow!” I missed the, “Wow!” If my mind began to wander, my fingers would inevitably begin to itch with the need: the need to draw. I would find some scrap of paper and the closest drawing utensil and I would get to work. It felt so good, the scratching of the itch as shapes turned into things on paper. Even in the smallest capacity, I felt like a recovering junkie getting in a quick fix.

The place where I had my best ideas for doodles was my first year writing class. There is precious little that I am cocky about, but I can own up to it: I am a damned good writer. I can write anything — prose, essays, technical. I understand how language works, I understand how to piece narratives. I am a great writer, and so being taught how to write better and being peer reviewed by writers who did not write as well as I did seemed like a waste of my time. So I just doodled. I got good grades. I participated. But the lines in my notebook could not contain words, no, big scrawling doodles broke through the pale blue cells. It felt so good to doodle those silly simple pen doodles. My ideas were bursting out of my head and falling out on the page. I was on top of the world.

And then my teacher called me out.

In a one on one meeting, he told me that I was a good writer (what else is new?) and that he enjoyed having me in his class; however, there was “one thing.” I had to stop doodling. He thought I was being rude. He thought that I was being disrespectful.

I looked my teacher straight in the eye and asked him if he had ever heard of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said of course. I told him that he doodled all over his papers — which is true. I told him that I had read studies that have found that doodling is correlated to stronger retention — which is also true. He told me that that was fair, but he still thought my doodling was rude.

I was enraged.

How dare this man call my expression, “rude?” This was the one thing bringing me any kind of joy in my writing. My doodling was my solace. My escape. My rage over this intervention was caused by one thing that I can own up to now: creative constipation.

Yes, creative constipation was the root of my issues. When artists aren’t creating, we get cranky. We get backed up. For me, doodling was like Milk of Magnesia for my creative constipation. Everything was flowing again. Everything felt right with my creative system. But to be totally clear: doodling during lecture is very rude.

Yes, I am a good writer. Yes, I am a good artists. However, in the event that someone is trying to teach me how to perfect my craft, should I really be so enraged when I am not engaged with what they are trying to tell me? No. I shouldn’t. At the time, I thought I was angry because my teacher was trying to keep me from expressing myself (which he was, but he was within his rights!) In reality, I was angry because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to make art. I wanted to create. I wanted to be doing the things I wanted to do and not feel stifled by my circumstances. Now that I am a year and a half removed from all that, I see that I have to make art a priority in my life. Art is my support system. Art is my passion. I can’t let myself get constipated again.

So where does that leave me with doodling?

Doodling is still a very important part of my creative process. I love to doodle. Even though I make a conscious effort to stop, I can’t keep my hands from drawing during class. I can’t keep all of my ideas in my head. Sometimes they have to come out onto the paper. Doodling is my exercise. It keeps me sane.

To doodle is to daydream with a concrete action. To doodle is to be inspired. Long live the doodlers, and let me doodle til my ink runs dry.


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