Doodling for Amateurs (& ADD)

doodlingDo you doodle? If you do, you’re in good company. Many creative and highly intelligent people doodle.

I’m not just saying this because I happen to be a journeyman doodler myself.

While there is technically a difference between scribbling out simple “sketches” and doodling, they bear much in common.

C.S. Lewis, for example, drew rather simple sketches, including his initial draft for the map of Narnia. I have written in the past about how he would sometimes include a small sketch in a piece of correspondence. And, of course, we have the delightful sketches that were designed to illustrate his childhood stories about the land of Boxen.

Not all of Lewis’ sketching was limited to amateur illustrations of literature. As the second quotation below shows, he also sketched “studies” that caught his fancy, while he was at his studies.

Even during his youth, Lewis held no exaggerated impressions of his own modest skills. In 1914 he wrote to his close friend Arthur Greeves about drawing.

I sympathize with your difficulty in drawing a horse, as I have often made the attempt in the days when I fancied myself in that line. But of course that counts for nothing: as the easiest of your sketches would be impossible for me. But there are heaps of pictures in which you need not introduce the animal.

The following year he addresses the same subject, offering more encouragement to his friend. He also describes his own “scribblings.”

I am glad to hear that you are keeping up the ‘illustrative’ side of your art, and shall want you to do some for my lyric poems. You can begin a picture of my ‘dream garden’ where the ‘West winds blow.’ As directions I inform you it is ‘girt about with mists,’ and is in ‘the shadowy country neither life nor sleep,’ and is the home of ‘faint dreams.’

With this Bädekers guide* to it, you can start a picture. You remember, I scribble at pen and ink sketches a bit, and have begun to practise female faces which have always been my difficulty. I am improving a very little I think, and the margins of my old Greek lexicon as well as my pocket book now swarm with ‘studies.’

Is Doodling Normal Behavior?

My siblings made fun of me for doodling as we grew up. The odd fact is, that I find it much easier to concentrate on a conversation when I have a pen in my hand and I can scribble as I listen. My notes from college and seminary attest to this fact.

For those who don’t experience this phenomenon, it’s counterintuitive. They think that if you are concentrating on your drawing, you are by obvious fact, not concentrating on the conversation. I understand that rationale, and it seems to me that the problem distills down to  exactly what we mean by “concentrating.”

Fortunately, there is recent research that proves doodling helps some people with their concentration.

On the Discover Magazine blog, they have a short introduction to the discovery that doodling can be a very good thing.

Doodling isn’t the distraction it’s commonly thought to be, researchers say–in fact, it aids concentration, and memory. A new study suggests that doodling takes up just enough attention to keep the brain from wandering further afield.

On a discussion forum about this subject, I recently read the following comments—with which I completely identify.

In high school and college I never wanted to loan anyone my lecture notes because they were so marked up.

In my professional life I’ve been told that it looks like I’m not paying attention in meetings, etc. (and, of course, sometimes I’m not) but more often that’s the only way I can focus on what’s being said. If I have to sit in a meeting and just listen, my mind goes in 47 different directions . . .

And, from a second individual:

During meetings, when I’m on the phone, in lectures, you name it. if I have a pen in my hand, I can’t help myself.

I really think it helps me concentrate. I think my brain prefers to do more than one thing at once, so if I make it draw, I can usually concentrate on what the speaker’s saying without getting distracted. It’s almost like I create a distraction for myself so I don’t get further districted.

One of the participants in the discussion recommended a recent book related to this subject, Fidget to Focus. From the description in the book, I suppose I may be ADD, even though the “disorder” was invented when I was too old to receive the label.

The book includes some strategies on how to cope with associated problems. I particularly like this one, because it affirms the activity I intuitively devised.

Let’s imagine a college student who is struggling to pay attention during a lecture. If he were to choose putting on his headphone and listening to his favorite CD as his strategy . . . It would fail because the strategy would be competing for, not supporting, the sensory activity or modality required for the primary activity . . .

However, if he pulled out his PDA and started playing a game, would this match what he needed? Yes, possibly. It would depend upon whether the game became his primary interest. . . .

An even better strategy would be to doodle on his notes while he listened. By using either of these visual-motor fidgets, he would likely be able to stay focused and remember a larger majority of the lecture material.

So, if you doodle to concentrate, take heart. You are not alone. And if you are a harasser of doodlers, give them a break. They aren’t ignoring you. In fact, they are working hard to give you all the attention you deserve.

Postscript: Do Not Fail to Visit this Site

One of the most creative and thought-provoking sites on the internet is coincidentally called C.S. Lewis Doodle.

I’ve written about it in the past, and strongly encourage you to check it out!


* Baedeker Guides are travel guide books which have been published by a German firm since the 1830s. If you would like a free digital copy of one of the popular guides illustrating the sites that would be visited by the erudite European in the late nineteenth century, they are available here.

10 thoughts on “Doodling for Amateurs (& ADD)

  1. Dear Rob,

    Great post and confirmation that doodling is a good thing. Loved the sketching video on You Tube. Long live creativity. Have a great Thanksgiving. Hope all is good with you.

    In Christ,


    1. Your comment about creativity reminds me that this is one of the human traits that evidences we are created “in the image of God.” I suspect it will last long, even eternally, as it’s part of the nature God desires in us. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Pingback: Worshipping Cats & Dogs « Mere Inkling

  3. Pingback: C.S. Lewis and Squirrels « Mere Inkling Press

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