Gesture Writing

How do we get students to start drafting their papers with energy and imagination?  How can we encourage those students to start writing a draft who are timid to put words on the page or overly worried about “getting it correct”?  Perhaps we should take a lesson from art classes, namely the “gesture drawing.”

I first learned of the practice of “gesture drawing” from my own recent experience taking Kelly Vanderbrug’s drawing class.  The link below  has a helpful reflection on the practice from the NYT writer’s blog.  Here is a quick preview:


“This “gesture” idea was fundamental. In painting classes, where I held the same pose for three hours (with frequent five-minute breaks, thank God), the paintings that looked most alive were built on top of a good gesture sketch, a first-step, quick-and-dirty drawing in which many crucial decisions about placement, perspective and emphasis were made intuitively.

In a gesture drawing, a whole arm that didn’t matter much might be just a smudgy slash, while a line that captured the twist of a spine might stand in sharp, carefully observed relief. The “gesture” was the line of organic connection within the body, the trace of kinetic cause-and-effect that made the figure a live human being rather than a corpse of stitched-together parts. If you “found the gesture,” you found life.

I was, during those early days of art modeling, struggling to find the life in my stylistically choppy novel. At home alone, I heard the drawing instructors’ voices.

Find the gesture. Don’t worry about the details. What is the essence of that pose?”


To make the analog to writing, just an an “r” to the last question:  What is the essence of that prose?

The full article is here:  “Gesture Writing”

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