In Defense of Doodling.

[This wonderful post is both written and illustrated by Pencil Hero聽Vivian Wagner. Many thanks to Vivian for allowing us to publish this fantastic piece!]

I doodle. I admit it. I doodle a lot. In fact, around a third of what fills my notebooks when I鈥檓 presumably writing is actually doodling. Drawing circles, squares, wine bottles, flowers, scribbles, bird silhouettes, random buildings, peculiar faces. Sometimes I just use whatever I鈥檓 writing with 鈥 often, lately, a pencil 鈥 to fill in an area with cross-hatching. It鈥檚 what I do. I can鈥檛 imagine writing longhand without doodling.

What I鈥檓 finding is that though doodling might seem secondary to the work of writing, it鈥檚 actually central to my process. It gives my brain a chance to pull away from whatever I鈥檓 focusing on, become a little daydreamy. And in that liminal, relaxed, seemingly unfocused space, I make connections. I have new thoughts. I imagine different directions. And I return to my writing refreshed, calm, and ready to think about it anew. Doodling is like a little vacation, but without all the hassle.

I鈥檓 realizing, too, that my affection for doodling is one of the main reasons I like to write longhand. Sure, there are ways to doodle on a screen. There are apps for that, and I鈥檝e experimented with them, especially on my iPad. But there鈥檚 something vital about the visceral laying down of graphite, ink, or pigment. This, too, is part of the process. The physicality of writing and doodling on paper keeps me grounded and helps me remember that I inhabit a body, that I live on a planet. My hand鈥檚 movements across the page link me to the electricity firing in my brain, to the sound of rain and wind, to the feel of my chair sliding on the floor.

Usually, even when I鈥檓 composing on my MacBook Air 鈥 which I鈥檓 doing with this essay, in fact 鈥 I鈥檒l have an open notebook next to my keyboard, along with a few sharpened graphite and colored pencils and pens. Every few minutes, I鈥檒l stop typing, turn to my notebook 鈥 in this case Baron Fig鈥檚 Metamorphosis, which, by the way, has wonderful paper for both doodling and writing 鈥 and absentmindedly scratch out a few lines and shadings. Sometimes, too, I鈥檒l flip back to earlier doodles in my notebook, looking for pencil drawings that I can fill in with color. In this way, my doodles become my own self-created, anxiety-relieving coloring pages.

I usually don鈥檛 show anyone my doodles. They鈥檙e not art, really. They鈥檙e not meant for any outside audience, any more than my unedited handwritten pages are. But they鈥檙e a record of a mind at work, and an integral part of my creative process. Nothing that I write and publish is ever done without the shadow world of my doodles behind it, and I鈥檓 grateful for all the analog tools that allow me to experiment, to assay my way through my thoughts and world.

Probably most people doodle, secretly, on the corners of to-do lists or the backs of envelopes. I鈥檇 like to just give all of us permission and encouragement to keep doodling. Keep making marks. Doodling is like doing yoga, meditating, vacationing, brainstorming, improvising, daydreaming, and even sleeping. It鈥檚 not secondary to our real work. It is our real work.

And, besides, it鈥檚 fun.


Vivian Wagner writes and doodles in New Concord, Ohio, where she teaches English at Muskingum University. She鈥檚 the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Kelsay Books). Visit her website at www.vivianwagner.net.

Higher Purpose of Doodling.


I was cleaning up for a party Sunday morning and missed this. There is not a whole lot of pencil action, but this is an enjoyable piece. I was surprised that the did not interview Mike Rohde, of whom I have been an avid fan for YEARS (and I keep meaning to pick up his book). Perhaps some of the new research explains why I retained more in high school than I thought, facing my binder full of doodles and Nine Inch Nails logos. And we need to get the book in the video, with a name like that!