Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

As a long-time student of Holly Lisle, I’ve long ago learned to trust her methods, whether or not they make sense to me right off the bat. (Rarely, I’ll come across a technique that she swears by that just doesn’t work for me–but, hey, she never claimed to have The One True Way. In fact, she’s pretty adamant about the fact that there is no such thing.)

So, when I saw somewhere on her site (or possibly in one of her courses? it’s been a while, so I’m not sure) that she recommends the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain to absolutely everyone, without reservations, regardless of whether they even want to learn to draw… well, I had to look into it.

So far, I’m glad that I did.

As a disclaimer, I should probably mention that I’ve always been okay at drawing. Not stellar (or even, in my opinion, good)–but not rotten either. See Exhibit A: drawing of my own hand, done at the beginning of the course.

  drawing-of-own-hand-1

Again–not exactly noteworthy, but it is, recognizably, a hand. Just not a very pretty one. Oh, and it took me about an hour to draw it. Yikes.

See also, Exhibit B: A self-portrait, also done at the start of the course, of which I am exceedingly proud…

self-portrait-1

… because most times when I try to draw someone, it turns out more like Exhibit C: drawing a person from memory.

portrait-from-memory-1

Yeah. Not so great.

In fact, I’m pretty certain that the only reason I was able to get my self-portrait to resemble a realistic human face, if not really my own face, is because I’d spent so long drawing my hand first. So, my Right Brain had already taken over by the time I started in on my self-portrait. And, as Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain explains so well and so thoroughly, the key to drawing well is to shift into Right-Brain-mode.

As I’ve been going through the course, I’ve been learning a lot about Right-vs.-Left Brain tendencies. And, as a result, I’ve learned why sometimes I’m able to crank out something realistic, while other times my drawings come out frustratingly childish. The difference, as you’ve probably guessed, is my realistic (aka “good”) drawings occur when I’m able to slip into Right-Brain-mode, while I get childish (aka “bad”) drawings when I don’t make the shift, and wind up drawing in Left-Brain-mode.

I’ll be continuing to work through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain as I find time, but already I can say it’s a book I’d recommend to everyone, as I’m already seeing an improvement. That self-portrait I drew? It took me at least 90 minutes of painstaking work. After working my way through nearly half of the course, I managed to draw this picture of a photo…

picture-of-a-photo

… in twenty minutes, tops. Probably closer to ten, since I was sitting at a bar, distracted by drinks and people as I drew it.

When I finish the course, I’ll do another drawing of my hand, another self-portrait, and another drawing of that same face from memory, and put them up here for comparison.

tl;dr: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is a fantastic book, whether you want to learn to draw, want to learn WHY you can already draw, or just want to learn more about the two halves of your brain.

Writing and 8tracks

Recently, 8tracks has become my go-to for finding good music to write to.

In case you’re unfamiliar, 8tracks is a free internet-radio-type website akin to Pandora–except instead of stations, they have playlists created by users.

I don’t really recommend the site as a whole. There are some fantastic hidden gems among those playlists, but I tend to find them hidden amongst entirely too much frankly awful music.

But for instrumental playlists? Well, for that, 8tracks is golden. If you’re looking for good, wordless, emotionally resonant music to write (or draw, or whatever) to, I absolutely recommend checking it out. I usually just search “writing” and “instrumental” together, and then take my pick. This is a great one, and one of my personal favorites so far.

(And a few days ago, I discovered it can be good for an other thing, too. Namely, for listening to epic motivational speeches to kick-start my day. I found one playlist in particular, entitled Go Further., particularly inspiring.)

That’s all, folks.

Burnt Flesh

by Paula de Carvalho
All rights reserved.

Tarik strolled around the newly re-discovered library’s main room, admiring the erratic rows of shelving units. He could live three lifetimes and never read all that the alien building contained. Why they’d abandoned it, he’d never understand—though at the moment he was more intrigued by the material the tablets were made of. They looked like slabs of sheet metal, but when he ran a finger over the embossed text, it felt like papyrus.

Amber’s voice came through the intercom strapped to his wrist, breaking his train of thought. “Boss?”

“Copy.”

“You’ve gotta get outta there. A fire broke out in the east wing, and its spreading like—well, like fire.”

Tarik shook his head, sure he’d misheard. “A what? How?” But even as he spoke, he began to smell it in the air.

“A fire, sir. I think Cady was smoking while she worked. Does it matter? Get out.”

He’d lost a childhood home to fire. He knew how quickly the flames could spread, and how completely they destroyed.

“Copy,” he said.

Tarik reached for the nearest shelf and grabbed tablets from it at random, hugging them to his chest.

Smoke descended from the ceiling, and flames leaped into the room from the east wing, swallowing shelving units whole.

The heat was suffocating—a few minutes more, and the whole room would ignite.

The tablets he’d already grabbed would have to suffice. Tarik sprinted across the room towards the open door, staying as low as he could manage, weaving in and out through the rows.

Flames danced after him, licking at his heels. He could feel his boots melting into his feet. His lungs burned and his eyes watered. The alien tablets grew hot in his arms.

Don’t burn up, he thought, please don’t burn up.

But his plea went unheeded. They grew hotter still, burning through his shirt and searing his flesh.

On instinct, he dropped them and kept running.

Instantly, he regretted it—but he could not turn back.

Tarik darted through the door and into open air. He fell to his hands and knees only a few feet from the entrance, coughing so hard he felt he would vomit. It didn’t help that the scent of his own burnt hair and flesh assaulted his nostrils.

Through bleary eyes, he saw two dark figures—his teammates—approaching him. They lifted him on either side, slinging his arms around their shoulders, and half-dragged him back to the rest of the team, well away from the fire.

When his coughing subsided and his vision cleared, Tarik looked up just in time to see the building collapse.

“Gone,” he said, through choked sobs. “It’s all gone.”

“Well,” Cady said, wincing, “not all of it.”

Only then did Tarik notice the scorching pain on his chest.

He looked down at his naked flesh, scarred with the mirror-image of some alien text—crudely branded, but legible.

And, through the pain, he smiled.

Back Again

Well, it’s been a while. I’ve been working on my writing (though, granted, not as much as I would’ve liked), but I’ve been seriously neglecting this blog. And I think I finally figured out why:

I’m taking it too seriously.

I forgot why I started blogging in the first place: to have a space to share my thoughts and my work, and, hopefully, to connect with people who think like I do, who like what I have to say, who I enjoy interacting with.

With my first few posts, I was successful in this. I wrote about the things I was thinking about. I liked what I wrote, and I was fortunate enough that a few people stumbled upon my posts and liked them, too. I didn’t plan a theme for my posts, or my blog–but a theme emerged anyway, and I felt like I was stuck with it. I felt like I had to write about writing (more specifically, about motivating oneself to write). Never mind that I love to write about writing. Just the fact of feeling pigeonholed made me freeze up and go off to do other things, leaving my blog abandoned in cyber-limbo.

But no more.

With this blog, like with my writing itself, I’m going back to the roots of my desire to start doing it in the first place: to have fun.

Because if I’m not enjoying something, or living my life the way I want to, then what’s the point?

So that’s my little rant. I can already hear a little left-brain voice telling me that this post is dumb, and no one’s gonna like it, or care. But I’m going to stuff that voice into a box, wrap it in duct tape, and ship it off to Antarctica. Because first and foremost, I write for myself. If anyone else likes it, that’s just a bonus. A great one, but also a completely unnecessary one.

On an unrelated note, expect my flash fiction piece Burnt Flesh to appear here later tonight or tomorrow. I’ve been sitting on these flash pieces for too long (2 of them done, 3 stuck in revision hell) and I want them to see the light of day. Even if the prospect of others reading them scares the shit out of me.

The Art of Setting Goals

Nineteen days into the year 2015.

Normally, by this time, any goals I’d set or resolutions I’d made for the new year would’ve fallen by the wayside, and I’d be telling myself, “I’ll work on it tomorrow,” or “next month,” or “next year”…

Pretty pathetic–I know. Or, at least, that’s what I would’ve been thinking to myself. And then, of course, finding the motivation to brush it off and follow through on my goals would’ve become impossible. Because what’s the point in trying if I just keep failing myself?

But this year is different. And it’s different because towards the end of last year I learned–and began to truly accept–two very important facts:

1. You’re only as successful as the goals you set.
2. You shouldn’t fear failure.

I’m still working on accepting that second one. I’m a huge perfectionist, so it’s hard, but I’ll get there. And I know I will, because now I know the art of setting goals. And the secret is crazy simple:

Set goals you can accomplish.

Seem too simplistic? Too obvious? Too underachieving, maybe? It’s not, once you understand the most important word in that sentence, and why it’s the most important.

Set goals YOU can accomplish.

It used to be the case that, when I decided I wanted to do something big (like, say, quit smoking, write a book, lose ten pounds, whatever), that’d be it, that’d be my goal. Say I decided I wanted to write screenplays. My goal, singular, would be: write a screenplay.

Inevitably, I’d stall out–usually within a week or two–because no matter how hard I may work, I wouldn’t feel any closer to my goal. I’d consider it another thing I couldn’t accomplish, and blame myself for not living up to my expectations, never wondering if perhaps it were my expectations that were failing me. (Spoiler alert: it was.)

Because I cannot write a screenplay. It’s an impossible goal.

Perhaps, if you’ve already got the characters and plot in your head and you’ve got no need for sleep and you’re more-than-a-little insane, you can sit your ass down and write a screenplay. If you’re human, however, all you can do is write one word at a time until you get a few pages, and keep doing that every day until you’re finished.

If I change my goal from “write a screenplay” to “write 10 pages of script everyday,” it becomes a lot more doable.

And this is where the you comes into play in setting goals: because while one person may be able to crank out 10 pages a day like it’s nothing, maybe you can only do 5. Or one. Or maybe you can manage 20 pages a day… but only every other day. You cannot look at someone else and say, “well, she wrote a 100k-word novel in three months” and then think yourself a failure when you cannot do the same–because you’re not that person.

The trick is to set goals that you can accomplish, based on the time and capability you have. If you decide to write a book, but haven’t managed to write a word in months or years–and especially if you’ve never written at all–don’t tell yourself you’re suddenly going to write 30 pages a day. If you’ve never worked out in your life, don’t tell yourself you’re suddenly going to start each morning with a 5-mile run.

Instead, maybe try 10 pages a day, or half a mile. If you can’t manage that, cut it down to 5 pages, or a couple laps around the block. You’ll work your way up–and because your new goals are doable, you’ll see your progress each day, as you’re able to check “finish the day’s writing” or “finish the day’s workout” off your list, and see the pages pile on, or the pounds drop off.

Start with something you know you can do, but that’s just a little bit more than you’ve been doing. It may (and probably will) seem slow going at first, but as you get in the habit of doing it, you’ll feel the rush of accomplishing what you set out to do on a regular basis, which will drive you to do more. You just need to find that little bit that you can do every day, and start doing it–even if you’re only working on your goal for 10 minutes a day. Just ten minutes.

If you can’t put in ten minutes a day, then maybe you don’t really want what you’re saying you want.

But if you’re trying to devote two hours a day right off the bat, and can’t manage that..then maybe you’re just expecting too much of yourself too soon.

And that’s okay, so long as you reassess your goals, make them work for you, and keep chipping away towards the things you truly want.

 

General Update

Hello there!

I haven’t disappeared, I promise. But I did quit smoking cold-turkey when I woke up on January 1st.

Since then, I’ve been feeling fantastic. Food tastes so much better now, I can breathe

But I’ve also been feeling awful. I’m fatigued all day long, but when I do sleep I wake up every hour or so. When a craving hits, nicotine is all I can think about, sometimes for hours (though that’s getting better now). And don’t even get me started on the headaches.

Anyway, withdrawal is a bitch. One that’s made it exceedingly difficult to write anything at all.

I’ve been trying to push through regardless. It’s been slow going, but I am moving along, and that’s what matters. Finished another flash fiction draft–though I’m not sure how much I like the piece (and I’m not sure how much my withdrawal is influencing my opinion of it).

And, once I’ve finished writing each day, I haven’t had the energy to blog as well.

But I’m trying to stop letting myself get away with making excuses for not doing the things I set out to accomplish, so that’s going to change.  I’ll be posting to my blog every Thursday (and hopefully more, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves) starting with this post right here.

See you around!

Don’t Look Back

If you’re anything like me, your brain spends a good portion of its time and energy reminding you of all the things you should’ve done, however big or small. Making you feel guilty for never learning how to draw, or taking a trip abroad, or working out, or writing, or whatever.

If you’re a lot like me, that guilt becomes crippling. In my case, it hits me hardest when I skip a day of writing. (Or two. Or three…)

The left side of my brain, my Inner Editor–that pesky perfectionist–gets stuck in a loop. She looks back at my screw-up, whatever it was, and replays it a thousand times, analyzing it, and making me feel like crap for not getting it right the first time.

Sometimes, if it’s really bad, she’ll replay my entire life, questioning every choice, criticizing every action and lack of action. (She especially enjoys doing this right as I’m trying to fall asleep, or right when I sit down to write).

Can you guess what happens next?

Nothing. She stays stuck in that loop, pushing each of my flaws and failures to the forefront of my mind. And then I feel so awful that I continue not to write, or work out, or go abroad, or learn to draw, or whatever. And that just adds more fuel to her fire.

“You should’ve spent time writing before you went out yesterday, Paula.”
“Should’ve cleaned the apartment first thing, instead of procrastinating the day away.”
“You should’ve started exercising years ago.”

On and on she goes.

When I allow myself to spend too long looking back, I have a hard time looking away again. Because my Inner Editor is a huge perfectionist, she focuses on the things I got wrong (never mind all the things I got right)–and she stays stuck, because she wants so badly to fix those errors. But she can’t. It’s in the past, it’s done.

The only way to get my mind out of that loop is to grab my Inner Editor by the ears and force her to turn around and look aheadTo envision myself in the future: six months down the road, a year, five years, ten. To glimpse the person I want to be, the things I want to accomplish. And then, before I can waste time daydreaming, to stop looking towards the future and look right here, right now, and start doing what needs to be done to get where I want to be.

Never mind all those times I didn’t accomplish what I set out to. No looking back.

I can’t change the years I spent dreaming of writing and never actually doing it. I can write right now, and keep writing every day for the rest of my life. Ditto for exercising, learning to draw, whatever it may be.

And if I slip up, there’s no point dwelling on it. Dwelling never helped anything. What does help is brushing myself off and moving forward, getting better.

Daenerys Targaryen has a great mantra in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series: “If I look back, I am lost.” She means it a little differently than I do, but the phrase holds true for me nonetheless, and maybe it holds true for you, too.

Because when I look back, I often do get lost. Very, very lost.

So here’s to looking ahead.