So you can read my books

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Alex Cavanaugh’sInsecure Writers Support Group

No, not mirror writing ... unless you're left handed.

Why did Leonardo Da Vinci write in backward or mirror image style?

I never believed that Leonardo's writing had anything to do with secrets or mystery writing.

He was such a creative, innovative person, he wrote the way he did because it was easier and possibly less "messy".

Leonardo was left handed.

If you have ever watched a left handed person write you will see that in order to be able to read what they have written,

as they write it, they "curl" their hand around what they have written. This allows them to see what they are writing.

So I believe Leonardo simply devised the Backward Writing because it worked for him.

Truly a practical and ingenious way to write his thoughts quickly and without mess. 

And obviously, he had no problem reading what he had written.

That's it. No big secret and deep dark mystery.

Just a good example of how Leonardo was someone who could "think outside the box". 

As you must think outside the box if you are to write something original.

You see, even if the original novel you write does not sell, you have not sold out the most valuable thing you have ... yourself.

What made this illegitimate son of a peasant girl and a notary become one of the most famous artists, inventors and scientists who ever lived?

His energy was limitless when it came to asking questions and searching for answers, and

he was the master of observation which led to more questions and discoveries.

He had an insatiable desire to learn as much as he could about everything he observed, and he took meticulous notes.

He even described himself as a "disciple of experience" which meant he learned from experiencing, experimenting and observing everything he came in contact with.

So must you be a disciple of experience if you would write "true" fiction even if it is a tale of utter fantasy. 

If the reader believes your protagonist, then she/he will flow seamlessly into the adventure no matter how fantastic ... if the logic of the heart rings true.


1.) Curiosità.

Curiosità is an "insatiably curious approach to life and unrelenting quest for continuous learning". Great minds have one characteristic in common: they continuously ask questions throughout their lives.

Leonardo's endless quest for truth and beauty clearly demonstrates this.

What makes great minds different is the quality of their questions. You can increase your ability to solve problems by increasing your ability to ask good questions.

Like da Vinci, you should cultivate an open mind that allows you to broaden your universe and increase your ability to explore it.



Bring a journal wherever you go and use it often. Write your ideas and thoughts there. Try to write several statements a day that start with "I wonder why/how..."


Observe according to a theme. Choose a theme and observe things according to the theme for a day.

 For example, let's say you choose "communication". For the entire day, observe every type and instance of communication you come across. You can then record your observations in your journal.

Stream of consciousness exercise. Pick a question and write the thoughts and associations that occur to you as they are. Don't edit them. The important thing is to keep writing. This is also referred to as freewriting.

3.) Dimostrazione.
Dimostrazione is "a commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes".
Wisdom comes from experience and the principle of Dimostrazione helps you get the most out of your experience. Here are some ways to apply Dimostrazione:
Next, take a distant view of your belief (for example, as if you live in a different culture) and review it.
Finally, find friends who can give you different perspectives.

Analyze the advertisements that affect you.

Look at the advertisements in your favorite magazine and analyze the strategy and tactics they use. Find the advertisements that affect you most and find out why.


List the names of some people whose mistakes you want to avoid.
Learn from them so that you won't encounter the same pitfalls.
Leonardo da Vinci - Lady with an Ermine
4.) Sensazione.

Sensazione is "the continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience".

According to da Vinci, we can best practice Dimostrazione through our senses, particularly sight.

That's why one of Leonardo's mottoes is saper vedere (knowing how to see) upon which he built his work in arts and science.
Here are some ways to apply Sensazione:

  • Write detailed description of an experience. For instance, describe your experience of watching a sunrise in your journal.

  • Learn how to describe a smell.

  • Learn to draw.  Even if it is badly.

  • Listen to different sounds around you.

  • Learn to listen to different intensity of sounds from the softest (e.g. your breathing) to the loudest (e.g. traffic).

  • Live in the moment. Practice mindfulness.

  • 5.) Cryptic.

    Cryptic is "a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty".

    An essential characteristic of da Vinci's genius is his ability to handle a sense of mystery. Here are two ways to apply Cryptic:

  • Befriend ambiguity.

  • Not knowing something does not make it ambiguous! It is when you DO know something but its meaning is indeterminate.

  • Ask yourself questions that relate two opposites.

  • For example, ask yourself how your happiest and saddest moments are related.  You will be surprised at your findings.

  • Practice the Socratic method.

  • The goal with the Socratic method is to examine possibilities, and that is done by asking questions, not by giving answers.

    Socrates was known (and criticized) for asking questions to which he didn't have answers.

    The key to using the Socratic method is to be humble.

    Don't assume that you or anyone knows anything for sure. Question every premise.


    How will this improve your writing?

    Imagine your heroine can't remember when she hasn't been able to ...

    A.) Taste colors
    B.) Not laugh when exposed to lies.

    Harmless right?

    No, she begins to have indigestion and hysterical laughter in front of forgeries in the art museum.

    She begins to earn a living until ...

    the intelligence agencies the world over hunt her for her skill at detecting lies and

    the terrorist organizations the world over want her dead.

    Then, an old crone said she once traded the heroine those deadly gifts in return for her earliest memory.

    Does the heroine want to un-do the trade?


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    1. Hi Roland .. what a brilliant post - a necessary read for us all. Most of us take life too lightly and if we followed Leonardo's examples and paid more attention to all things we'd be so much better off mentally ..

      If we stop and practise those things you suggest then we'd understand more and would be 'in the moment' much of the time ... we let time pass us by and then complain we have no time - guilty as written ..

      Great lessons here - cheers Hilary

    2. Observe according to a theme. I'm going to try that.

    3. Amazing post, Roland. I think many of us (and by that I mean me), get into a rut of expressing ourselves, particularly emotions, the same way over and over because we aren't using our senses. We experience a situation once, and that's how we relate it over and over and over. Your post is the antidote.

      At present I'm writing from the POV of an unreliable narrator. That, too, has been an eye opening experience, forcing me to perceive reality from more than one vantage point and to use all my senses.

      VR Barkowski

    4. I love this post! I actually had no idea Da Vinci wrote backwards, but it makes sense that he did because he was left handed and it was more convenient. And I liked your steps to become a Da Vinci. Those are great tips for every writer.

    5. Hilary:
      There was a line in the new remake of Sherlock Holmes where he stands in amazement of Watson: "How strange it must be to be you - blind to most of the world around you."

      I think most of us fall in the "Watson" category all too often. Gulp. :-)

      Thanks for such a nice reply.

      I tried it for a hour . It was some exercise!

      It certainly is a challenge to write from the POV of an unreliable narrator. Yet, all first person narrators are unreliable (even to themselves) since who of us sees the true world around us?

      Thanks for liking my post. I tried to make it useful and entertaining -- at least the pictures were pretty! :-)

      Your comment made my morning. Now, if I can only use those steps to become a Da Vinci myself!

    6. Da Vinci was amazingly creative and had an inquiring mind. I loved his art and Michelangelo's when beginning my art studies.

      With art, writing and any creative endeavor, we must keep learning or we become stale. Interaction with other writers helps too.

      Emailed a reply, Roland.

    7. I always learn something from your posts, Roland -- I had no idea about da Vinci writing backwards. And he sounds like a grandfather of mindfulness with his emphasis on experience, observation, and senzione.

    8. I am always in awe of the things you know.
      I realy need to start journaling again. I have always enjoyed doing it, and loved looking back at my past with new eyes.

    9. Jennifer:
      That is so very nice of you to say. Did you notice how Maukie, the virtual cat, was practicing sensazione with that ermine in that painting?

      How hard it is to mind our surroundings. Take revenge: living forward by looking backwards. How odd.

      I always enjoy your visits.

      Odd facts tend to stick to my consciousness like cockle burrs!

      In a sense, both you and I ARE keeping journals: our blogs! :-)


    10. Wow. That's a lot to process. Very interesting read though.


    11. What an interesting, intelligent post.


    12. So much here to love, Roland. 'You can increase your ability to solve problems by increasing your ability to ask good questions.' I love this sort of creativity...and who better to call up than Leonardo. Maybe it's not as easy to find time to practise these exercises, but the creative brain will thank you.

      Thanks, Roland. :)

    13. Loni:
      Glad I tweaked your interest. :-)

      Thanks! I hoped you found my post helpful in some small way.

      Now, if only my mind were as facile at asking good questions as Leonardo's was! I'm glad you enjoyed my post.

    14. Amazing post! Interesting how people in our time believe someone could be so mystical and mysterious. LOL--they'd be shocked to know that it was nowhere near and only simplicity. :P


    15. Elizabeth:
      As with Fox Mulder in the X-Files: we want to believe in the mystical. It is the child in all of us, right?

      What a treat to see you here! :-)

    16. Another insightful post! I knew that da Vinci was a brilliant observer, but you drove home for me other important points.

      Another suggestion, perhaps? UNPLUG and observe the world around you. I see so many people these days staring at their phones/computers and wired for music that they see and hear nothing around them. Their powers of observation really are diminished by being electronically plugged in for too long.

    17. Left handed people are some of the most creative individuals. I find it fascinating to watch my co-workers who are lefties write.

    18. Helena:
      Da Vinci has always been one of my heroes ever since I watched a mini-series as a young man about the genius. UNPLUG? That is a profane word around most young people these days! But you are so right.

      Yes, it always strikes me that it should feel awkward to them, but they tell me it feels very natural.

    19. Hi, Roland!

      You featured one of my FAVORITED artists!!!!! Da Vinci was so brilliant and thanks so much for pointing his techniques out to us.

      I ALWAYS learn so much from your posts. How do you do it? I guess another brilliant mind can understand the so well....

      I am definitely going to try some of these....

      Hope all is well...

      I spoke with Melissa today. She's doing well.... second round of Chemo...