This is the forty-ninth installment of The Curious Creative, weekly 10-minute writing exercises for busy individuals interested in exploring their creativity. For the complete rationale, click here.
In Lynda Barry’s cartooning class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “What It Is,” about halfway through the semester, she assigns her students “the four-panel diary.” On each diary page, students illustrate four scenes from that day, including “daily things” and “things that stand out.”
I very much like what Barry writes about the purpose of this activity: “Both writing and drawing lean on a certain kind of picturing—not the kind that is already finished in your head and just needs to be put to words or reproduced on paper. It’s a kind of picturing that is formed by our own activity, one line suggesting the next. We have a general direction but can’t see where we are until we let ourselves take a step, and then another, and then we move on to the third… You don't know what your drawings will be like until you draw them with this kind of picturing in your mind that moves your hand. The trick is just that: Let it move your hand.”
Her directive to “let it move your hand” is very apropos to the generative stages of writing. You must surrender to not knowing what the finished product will be until it appears at the end. This surrender is central to the creative process (and addictively fun!). For this week’s Curious Creative exercise, we will adapt Barry’s activity to writing.
- Divide a piece of paper into four equal quadrants.
- If you are an early morning creative, think about the day before. If you are doing this in the evening, reflect on the day you’ve just had. For this particular activity, it’s better to do the latter.
- In each panel, time yourself to write a 2-minute description of a scene or image from your day. Do not tell a chronological narrative of something that happened. Simply imagine a scene, a flashbulb memory if you will, and use words to describe what you see.
- These scenes don’t have to be the most exciting moments of your life; you can even focus on “pouring milk on your cereal,” as Lynda Barry suggests. The important thing is that you capture a scene in your mind’s eye, even if the picture is terribly fuzzy, and for two minutes, describe it with words on the page.
How did you do? Did you let the process sweep you away, not knowing what you’d write until the description appeared in each panel? Were you able to actually imagine a visual picture in your mind’s eye for each panel? Did you notice interplay between image and word?
To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in from a google account so you can share your creation in the comment box below. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box to the right), you will get an email update whenever a new exercise is added. Thanks for playing!
Inspired by: Linda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014)