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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Zentangle Your Way Into Process and Out of Resistance: Guest Post by Phyllis Smith

Phyllis Smith's Zentangles

Phyllis Smith’s Zentangles

I love to hear about new forms of creative play for Process especially from my students and coaching clients. One person’s creative play can be another person’s tedium, so I like to have lots of options to suggest.

Phyllis Smith, a student in one of my online classes, introduced me and her classmates to Zentangle, a Process activity any writer can enjoy. I invited Phyllis to share her passion for Zentangle in today’s guest post.

When I first read Around the Writer’s Block, I puzzled over what I might choose for a satisfying Process practice. I wanted something I could do for the sake of doing it and not for the end result. But it had to feel good and be easy to do so I could build a strong habit. I experimented with games and a dream journal as Process activities, but I was drawn to Zentangle for its simplicity and how it makes me feel.

I was amazed to find that someone had created an art form similar to the little doodles that I sprinkled on my class notes in school. However, Zentangle is more than simple doodles; it is a meditative practice that serves to relax and focus your mind. It requires no particular skill, but the outcome is beautiful and inspiring. It’s art for the art-challenged.

Zentangle bookMaria Thomas and Rick Roberts say that their Zentangle Method lets anyone take a pen to paper and create appealing images using simple, repetitive patterns. I’ve heard it called “yoga for the brain” because practitioners can achieve the same sense of calm and centeredness from their Zentangle practice.

Zentangle is unplanned and is more about a creative process than an accomplishment. There is no “right” in Zentangle. What might initially look like a mistake simply becomes part of the design. The final step in creating a Zentangle is to reflect on your piece of art and admire it.

The Zentangle motto is “Anything is possible…one stroke at a time.” Each stroke is drawn deliberately and with purpose. The focus is always on the present, allowing the image to reveal itself in good time.

As a writer, I’m often tempted to write towards a preplanned ending. Zentangle reminds me to simply write to see where my words take me.

Unlike some other forms of art, Zentangle is inexpensive, easy to learn, and travels well. While Maria and Rick offer a variety of papers and pens in their store, you can use any sketchbook and a good quality fine-tip black pen. It’s easy to try out Zentangle for Process without spending a lot on tools or supplies.

The Zentangle Method uses structured patterns. None of them are difficult and it’s easy to find detailed instructions on the Internet. I have my favorites and return to them again and again in my practice. I have benefited from workshops with Certified Zentangle Teachers (CZTs), but formal classes are not essential.

Zentangle is perfectly portable. A pen and small Zentangle tiles or a small sketchbook fit in your pocket. You can work on your tangles in a coffee shop, on an airplane, or even at your writing desk. Wherever you can write in a journal, you can play with Zentangle.

If you’re looking for an alternative way to play with Process, you can learn everything you need to know at the official Zentangle website. You might also want to check out Linda Farmer’s TanglePatterns website. Linda collects and organizes instructions for hundreds of tangle patterns. Of the many books available, I suggest One Zentangle a Day: A 6-week Course in Creative Drawing for Relaxation, Inspiration, and Fun by Beckah Krahula.

Remember the most important part of Zentangle is to relax, let go of your expectations, and let your artwork evolve.

Phyllis Smith lives in Georgetown, Ontario. She and her husband provide business strategy consulting to technology companies. Phyllis has published nonfiction in trade journals and is working on a memoir about the adventures she, her husband, and then-young sons had when they lived in France. Phyllis uses Zentangle every day to refresh her creative energy.


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3 Comments on “Zentangle Your Way Into Process and Out of Resistance: Guest Post by Phyllis Smith”

  1. kperrymn March 6, 2018 at 10:09 am #

    “Art for the art-challenged” sounds like a terrific process activity for me. I have come to value process time, but it’s been a long winter here in Minnesota, and I could use some variety! I look forward to checking out Zentangle.


    • rosannebane March 6, 2018 at 3:01 pm #

      Glad to hear it, KPerryMn! If you feel so inclined, send photos of what comes out of your playtime.



  1. How to Cure Creative Constipation, aka Writer’s Block | Bane of Your Resistance - September 17, 2015

    […] desk and go play for 15 minutes – color in a coloring book, make a mess with finger paints or draw a Zentangle. Work it out by kneading Play-Doh, clay or bread dough. Or whittle a bar of soap or a random stick […]


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