Frustration? Creation? Pent up imagination? A need to scribble and swirl the mind into concrete reification?
For me, doodling was actually all about concentration. By occupying a certain wily part of my conscious mind in the act of doodling, I could concentrate for much longer periods of time on what was being told to me. Doodling was essentially how I listened in class. I still have (buried in a wicker box beside my bed along with a million other memories) a sheet of paper absolutely covered in colourful swirls, which represent the entirety of one term’s A-level study notes. I never wrote anything down, I just doodled, and it ensured that I had enough mind on what was being said for it to go in.
Thankfully I had teachers who either understood this or thought I was past worrying about. It’s worth noting that I did manage to have a hallucinogenic nervous break down at one point during this period of my education. So either option would’ve been valid.
What I’m saying is: doodling helps me concentrate. It’s a way of occupying one part of the mind fully so that the rest can focus on something particular, which is why I doodle (I don’t do it so much any more).
But there’s lots of reasons why people might doodle. The obvious ones being frustration and creativity. It’s a fairly normal expression of something inside. It’s a fairly engaging experience, feeling the brain out and spewing it onto paper using one of civilisation’s most marvelously flexible inventions.
It’s one of the most satisfying things about pen and paper, that it’s a physical embodiment of abstract communication and the mind. It’s a way of making the unphysical solid. Thoughts can be trapped. Moments recorded. Ink pours violently from one place to another, leaving darkness and meaning in its trail.
The act of doodling is intensely satisfying. It’s making chaos out of order in a way that is actually making order out of chaos. A blank page is corrupted with structure. A pristine scrap is soiled with impressions of a mind.
We doodle when we’re bored, but also when we’re angry. We doodle when there’s nothing better to do, and we would rarely admit how satisfying it can be.
Small acts of creation are very worthwhile. Reminding ourselves that we are beings that make marks. Small marks, often meaningless, but marks nonetheless.
I wish I had some talent, when it comes to drawing and mark making. But I don’t. But with doodling, it doesn’t matter. The expression is too direct for meaning or fidelity or technique to play a part. Well. Maybe not meaning. Meaning can still be there, but realistically, it’s supplementary or abstracted or subsumed by the simple act itself.
When we doodle. We make shapes out of nothing. It’s a satisfying thing. It’s creative, in a literal sense, but it doesn’t really reach out to standards or qualities.
It’s just scribbling what our brains are doing.
Illustration by Rosie