Secondary practice

Writing is my primary practice. I spend most of my time doing it and I have big goals and grand plans for the things I do with words.

I have some really interesting projects in the works. They are exciting ideas. I want to jump in and pound out several thousand words to get a serotonin squirt from making headway on them. Getting Things Done feels good.

The problem is that none of these new projects/ideas are fully baked. I don’t even know what I’m baking yet. I’m still assembling the ingredients. I’m in the wandering around phase, and I don’t want to force a shape to things before they’re ready. I have to spend some time gathering thoughts and information and allow my unconscious to chew on the new materials.

This phase can be interesting and even enjoyable. But it can also be antsy and uncomfortable and grasping — that feeling of reaching and groping around for the shape of something that isn’t solid yet.

Enter the secondary practice.


Drawing uses a different part of my brain. It gives my verbal synapses a break. My shoulders unclench when I put pen to paper in a way they can’t when I’m at a keyboard. I love to invent pictures, but when I need to give my generating brain a break, I draw from life — still life. Buildings work well for me because they don’t move around.

I don’t get to use a pencil when I draw buildings because I get way too fussy when I can erase lines and start over. I built up the confidence to put ink straight on paper in my urban sketching class. Using that skill makes drawing more relaxing. If I make a mistake, there’s nothing I can do about it, so I keep going. If I can’t incorporate the line in the drawing, I leave it to erase digitally or white out later.

Ink keeps the practice immediate. I don’t get to revise and rethink and revise like I do with writing. The sketch might go well, or I take a wrong turn and it never quite recovers. After twenty minutes, the sketch is done and I can move on to the next thing.

I don’t want to hold on to drawing too tightly. Writing is the place where I put all my perfectionism and ambition. Sketching is where I can be curious and loose.


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