Can Drawing Help Your Writing?

by F.

Take the case of Victor Hugo. The man was an excellent draughtsman as well as storyteller. Here’s one of his pictures:


Is there some relation between using visualization skills (painting, drawing, making movies) and imagination? Possibly.

Some new research published in Neuron suggests that the primary visual cortex is used for both “high level” visual processing (like imagination) and “low level” processing (like seeing edges). Small Gray Matters has the scoop:

V1 is the primary visual cortex–essentially, the first cortical stop for incoming visual information. The traditional view used to be that, because of their position at the bottom of the information-processing hierarchy, neurons in V1 respond only to very simple configurations of light patterns (e.g., specific spatial orientations or frequencies). That view is increasingly being challenged by anatomical data indicating that V1 receives projections from a variety of other cortical areas and functional data showing that V1 neurons respond to a variety of seemingly high-level properties.

And now an anecdote from my own life. I did a little experiment where I wrote (I was working on a longish novel of around 90,000 words) but forswore (a) television, (b) movies, and (c) drawing/painting. I wrote each morning and for artistic input I either (i) read other stories, (ii) read the paper, or (iii) listened to audio books, mostly fiction or drama. So it was just words words words, all day, every day. My working hypothesis was something like, “To create better with words, consume more of them.” And since time is finite, I had to re-allocate some time from watching movies to reading and listening.

The result?

Not good. I had a lot harder time getting my imagination in gear when I wrote my own stories. I couldn’t see things as well—sometimes, couldn’t see them at all. I couldn’t see the scenes, the characters’ expressions, their mannerisms. It was as if my imagination had atrophied.

So, as is my wont, thereafter I went to the other extreme: I began to draw every day and to watch at least one movie a day. The unscientific result? Mucho imagination. My powers of imagination have never been stronger. An anecdote, yes. But it may work for you, too.

Want to see your stories better? Engage your visual imagination, like Hugo did.