When I was three, a preschool teacher showed my mom a crayon drawing I’d made of a dinosaur. My mom shrugged and said, “Yeah, he draws dinosaurs all the time at home.” To this the teacher replied incredulously, “Three-year-olds don’t draw dinosaurs.”
As a kid, drawing was my first creative love. I’d draw my own comics, sketch cartoony portraits of my family, and (as I approached adolescence) create disproportionately-endowed females with come-hither eyes. At some point in my teen years, though, I lost interest in drawing, but even as my attention began to bend toward literature in my college years, I’ve always maintained a keen interest in the visual arts. I make movie selections based on director / cinematographer pairings, I’m fascinated by 20th century Spanish and American painters, and I consider British street artist Banksy a modern genius.
Recently, on a whim that felt similar to the one that brought me back to writing a few years ago, I bought a drawing tablet and Photoshop. Over the past few weeks, I’ve slogged through online tutorials on figure drawing, perspective, and other ‘art 101’ primers. Really, really fun, but really, really challenging as well.
And unexpectedly, this new creative outlet has improved my ability to write. After sketching for a few hours, when I come back to writing it seems relatively easy. Not objectively easy, mind you, just by comparison. While my skills as a writer undoubtedly have lots of room to improve, they’re certainly well past the stick figure stage, and this is a comforting thought.
A similar thing happened when I suffered a knee injury that forced me to stop training for a marathon. For several months, instead of running, I cross trained with weightlifting, swimming, and riding a stationary bike. When I finally came back to running months later, I found my performance was higher and running just seemed, somehow, easier.
Maybe creative muscles are like the physical ones in the sense that a bit of cross training helps develop your core strength, whatever that happens to be. Maybe painters can improve their landscapes by writing stories. Maybe actors can improve their monologues by taking up knitting. Actually, the knitting example may be a bit of a stretch, but in my case a bit of creative cross training seems to have helped.
I’m interested in learning if any of my writer friends have had similar experiences with creative cross training. Let me hear from you!