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Doodles: The Best Way to “Write Not Write”

Need a break from your writing? Try doodles: the best way to "write not write." Playing with other creative forms is guaranteed to loosen your blocks, open up your flow, and reinvigorate your soul and spirit so you can get back to writing every time!

Summer’s finally here (whoohoo!). We can look forward to using the season’s slower pace and warm days to enjoy time in nature, ice cream, and the promise of some extreme relaxing.

If you push yourself during the cooler months to achieve your writing goals either because your job demands it or you’re looking to publish, doodles, or quick daily hits of “writing not writing” are wonderful for reconnecting with yourself and filling your creative well.

What’s a Doodle and Why Is It Useful?

A writing doodle is a light-hearted one-hit writing effort. A line, a quick thought, or even the literal definition of a doodle: an image (perhaps with some words around it for writerly flair).

typewriter wearing lifejacket on lake dock
“Travel and Leisure Section”
typewriter with razor and shaving cream
“Smooth operwriter”

Writing happens from regularly putting your behind in the chair, and the daily act of doodling is no different except for the time you spend (far less) and the energy behind the writing (play not work).

Such a shift into giving your writing a light, explorative, and fun treatment for the summer months isn’t just welcome; for many of us, it’s a necessity. It can happen that the thing that keeps us feeling whole and well can, as too much of a good thing may do, become a chore.

Creative people need our creativity. It’s our fuel, our light, and our way of being in the world. However, there is a downside to being creative, which is we’re biologically wired to turn our creative impulses and observations into things.

(You know it’s true; you see something interesting, which sparks your brain into wandering into “What if” territory, and that’s it, you’re off —)

This meaning-making aspect of you is what makes you incredible, but it’s also what can in too large a measure make you tired.

Using the summer to engage in small efforts that are fun and short is more connective tissue to your creative self than work.

This bridging creativity serves as a valuable reset, one that sets us up to be stronger, better, and that much more productive when we return to our full writing practice, ready to get ‘er done.

How to Doodle: Writing Prompts

One Lit Place Writing Instructor, Coach, and Screenwriter/Middle Grade & YA writing specialist Rebecca Hales talks about the importance of the small and fun daily summer writing doodle.

Keep a small notebook or an index card or even the notes app on your phone open and ready. Collect inspiration, ideas, snippets of overheard conversation, funny or interesting characters, etc. Nothing complete, just enough to inspire you later. That way you take in the world through creative lenses all summer and have a strong jumping off point in September.

  • Index cards: get them in colors or stick to plain old white. In Bird by Bird, Annie Lamott advises writers to always keep one in your back pocket (and remember a pen!) They’re light and easy to fold in half, making them perfect for doodling: a line of dialogue, a pithy thought pertinent to your research, a sense memory, or spying on someone on the bus.

“I keep a stack of note cards with context on the front and the visceral memory of what moved me on the back. Even when shuffled and spread out, these note cards reveal patterns I would have missed had I not been careful enough to collect them, allow them their accumulative effect, and speak in that connective language I crave.”

Kate Wisel, author of Driving in Cars With Homeless Men (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019)

  • Doodle a first line: (or a few- let them fly!). Alice McDermott’s article “What Makes a Great First Sentence,” is wonderful juice for writing your own.
  • Gather ideas in an app: Use the app Evernote to gather pics from Pinterest or keep a writing snippets file.

blue notebooks, reading glasses, turquoise espresso cup on wood table for creativity course

  • Journal
    : Get a handsome journal for morning pages. Journals are great for quick notes or if you feel like going longer to nourish your soul and spirit (first thing with a hot drink sitting outside is an incredible way to begin summer’s day).

    When was the last time you did The Artist’s Way or our 31-day writer’s version Cultivating Creativity: How to Start and Sustain a Writing Habit? 
  • Love Snips: Catch funny things about your loved ones that make them who they are on random notes, Post-its or in your journal and leave them lying around (this one is good because you’re writing from love, which helps spark some nice conversations (or if they happen to spy on your journal!)).

Why Write Doodles When You Could Just Take the Summer Off from Writing Altogether?

Creatives Got to Be Creative

One might argue that taking a break is the best way to rest, but when you’re a creative person, the opposite is true. Creativity is not something we should rest from; it’s something we should rest with.

ghost with typewriter

Continually fostering your creative self ensures you’re your fullest and best you, which means the more energy you have to give to yourself and to others. It’s the best self-fulfilling prophesy there is.

It’s how you do it that matters: turning your creative impulses into no-risk non-performative play is key.

You may have to ease your way into this perspective. Work is a habit for many of us, so stopping yourself from applying your daily doodle to a larger framework or a form might be hard, but in time you’ll get the hang of it and then can enjoy knowing when you return to your writing desk in the fall, you’ll be full of ideas, all borne in joy and ease.

That’s a great legacy from which to begin a story, a journal article, or a novel, memoir, or business book.

Writer’s Block

The other reason you don’t want to take the whole summer off is a long pause is the surest way to get blocked.

vintage typewriter with brick
“Writer’s Block”

Entropy is a very real thing: if you take the whole summer off, you may begin to feel edgy and unsettled (imagine yourself a volcano building up steam for two months).

Then when you finally do sit down to write, you may be so full of pressure, your writing muscles unfamiliar with being used, your creative spirit puzzled, and your mind and body may become overwhelmed, which invariably leads to writer’s block.

So, we’re only a few days into summer, and if you feel like you need a serious break from the grind of your writing habit, by all means, lighten up! You’ll have fun and will be limbered and ready once September comes.

Remember to consider all your doodles an opportunity to play. You’ll be amazed how much your creative self responds.

Good luck, have fun writing, and enjoy the raspberry ripple!

You can also have fun, generate a ton of new material, and learn so much about yourself as a creative — and as a writer in our 31-day creativity-building course, “Cultivating Creativity: How to Start and Sustain a Writing Habit in 31 Days.” It’s a wonderful way to deepen into your writing this summer!

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