Downtime Doodles

What is this thing, you ask? I do not know.

In addition to doing the children’s book thing, I teach creative writing classes for kids via Zoom. I love the work. The students are fun and enthusiastic; the commute is fantastic (just one flight of stairs!); and, most importantly, I can do my happy, jokey, dog ‘n’ pony show while wearing jammies.

Every job is better in jammies.

The goal of these classes is not to teach the regimented mechanics of writing, it’s to build confidence and generate enthusiasm for storytelling. One way I do this is to assign in-class writing prompts. These prompts are designed to push each student’s brain in interesting and unexpected directions.

For example:

1. Your efforts to speak to the dead go badly.

2. You’re running for president in an alternate dimension. Write and deliver your campaign speech.

3. How did that giraffe get in the Hudson River?

You get the idea.

The prompts are a hit, usually. The kids have a good time discovering new stories. And I, in turn, love to hear the twisted tales they share.

The regularity of these prompts results in chunks of class time where I don’t teach much. I’m a fellow who likes to keep his brain busy, so I tried to use this time to work on my own stuff. I had no intention of sharing the work, of course—these classes weren’t about me—I just thought it would be a fun way to pass the time while everyone else was silently scribbling away.

It didn’t work. Almost instantly I recognized that I couldn’t simultaneously concentrate on a story and keep an eye on the class.

Doodling on the other hand…

I’m assuming the dog on the left is Snoopy’s nearsighted satanic younger brother.

Doodling, for me, requires no focus at all. I can look up from my “work” at a moment’s notice to fulfill my teacherly responsibilities—answering questions, addressing concerns, and, once in a while, sending an urgent message to a student via private Zoom chat (“I can see you picking your nose, Martin!”).

So now I have legal pads stuffed with drawings—half-baked ideas and unfocused weirdness that will never see the light of day.

Until now. Because, hey, why not?

Monster and Muppet,

So! Do you like to free your mind with a few doodles? Or something else? Lemme know in the comments!

47 Replies to “Downtime Doodles”

      1. Ah! Purposeful mirthful circles—this has possibilities. BtW—I used to teach creative writing at the high school and at the library. This could be an avenue of exploration after I retire. How did you find this venue?

      2. The Writers Circle is located just a few towns from where I live, so I had been aware of the company for a while (and have worked for them since 2018). In the pre-Covid days all of the classes were conducted in-person, in rented offices or community spaces. At that time I only taught a couple of classes on Saturdays.

        After the pandemic hit, I switched to Zoom and my teaching schedule picked up in a big way. I now teach six classes, including a Kid Lit workshop for adults.

        TWC is always on the lookout for good teachers who are also published authors, so I’m sure they’d hire you in a second. Here’s the website:

      3. The fine print says I need to reside in the New Jersey area. Maybe this pre-Zoom requisites. I shall inquire as I am intrigued.

      4. You are convincing me. Did I tell you that I am retiring this year? This would be a retirement consideration gig, for sure.

  1. Oh yeah! My doodles are nowhere near as intricate as the ones you’ve shared, but I do feel like doodling does help free my mind—or more importantly, keep me present. I don’t know what it is about it. Maybe it’s because it’s a secondary creative medium to my writing. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    1. Thanks for posting this, Stuart!

      “Keep me present” is a wonderful way to describe it. My doodles do open my mind in a way that my writing doesn’t. Even when I’m at my most playful writing-wise, the inherent narrative structure of storytelling keeps me from being completely “free.”

    1. I must admit, I like the multi-eyed ogre thing as well. I just started with a bunch of random circles before thinking, “Okay, maybe they’re eyes.” And then, “Welp, I gotta put a body around all those eyes.” And then, “Drawing hair is really fun with a ballpoint pen, so I guess this ugly thing is hairy, too.” That’s just the way I roll, doodle-wise.

      And of COURSE you were doodling before it was hip. You’re a trendsetter and probably the hippest person I know!

    1. Your bird reminded me of that PBS show from the 80s where the guy drew… I had to head off to google – it was called “Secret City” with Mark Kistler. Was I the only one who LOVED this show?!

    1. Doodles don’t usually generate story ideas for me, but they do help me work out and process a story idea after I begin writing.

      And yeah, I love the creative writing classes! I started teaching them a few years ago (in-person), but after the pandemic hit, my schedule got a lot busier. I currently have six Zoom classes now, including a Kid Lit writing class for adults.

  2. I have scraps of paper everywhere with doodles on them. None of them are even close to your talent, but I find that doodling (even badly) keeps me calm. I have been using this tool since I was a kid and sometimes I still doodle the same doodles as back then.

    1. Thanks, Patricia!

      The prompts may be a bit tricky as seen here, but the kids and I always discuss them a bit before I send them off to write.

      The giraffe one is interesting because it’s based on a real event. In 2019, an environmental effort was spearheaded to clean up New York Harbor. When diving crews reached the harbor floor, they discovered tons of weird stuff that had been dumped or lost over the years—including a fleet of Good Humor trucks, a grand piano, 1,600 bars of silver, a homemade submarine, a headless body stuffed in a mailbag, and, yes, a dead giraffe. Students were allowed to pick one of these objects and write a story explaining how it ended up in the harbor. That prompt was a pretty big hit, actually.

  3. I love your writing prompts for your students. How fun are those, Mike? My brain immediately wants me to grab a pencil and go at it. And I’ve always enjoyed your doodles. They are a fun way to “wait.” I don’t have any free moments, honestly, but if I did… I’d try a few doodles for sure! 🙂

  4. Hey Doodle King! I find myself doodling all the time. I tend to doodle the same thing over and over. I have done it all my life. I used to fill the margins of my notebooks in school with doodles because I was so boooooooooored! I even bought a book once about doodling because apparently the things you doodle are suppose to say something about who you are and your secret longings and personality. Mine were spot on!! I love your doodles! 😀

      1. Well… I doodled swirly lines all over my notebooks in school. But then I started drawing koala bears. I have been collecting them for many years. I also draw turtles, rainbows w pots of gold, arrows, trees, houses, shooting stars.. all kinds of stuff. According to the Doodle Dictionary by Nancy Nelson and Alice Landry, its pretty accurate to my personality. I’m strong, empathetic, frustrated with the past, look forward to the future but I’m secure. Flowers or happy flowers means I always want a happy ending… all true. Plus a lot more. Great little book. 🙂

  5. Have you thought of teaching a Zoom Doodle class? Because, wow, I would like to doodle so many times when I’m, um, unfocused (bored, trying to be attentive, better than a puzzle cause I hate puzzels) but I have no idea how to start, much less draw anything fun like you do. Your doodles always make me smile. That’s no small thing. And what lucky student writers — to have YOU as their teacher!

    1. Aw! You’re so sweet.

      All of the doodles shown here (especially the page with Nearsighted Satan Snoopy, were done with little thought as to how they’d turn out or if they’d turn out well. That’s the key to doodling, really. Those who say they can’t doodle are the ones most self-conscious about what the doodles might look like. But who cares what they look like? Nobody has to see them. Just scribble! Or grab a bunch of colored pencils and blend the colors together. Let you mind go, have fun, and don’t judge yourself!

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