Poet James I. Merrill (AC 1947) was a frequent doodler. The margins of his manuscripts are often crowded with small faces that encroach upon the text. Doodling even showed up in his published work: his poetry collection, The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace, includes a poem about doodling. Appropriately, Merrill doodled on a manuscript copy of the poem. Merrill’s second published novel, The (Diblos) Notebook, is the story of a novelist who doodles and finds other ways to procrastinate instead of working on his novel.
At the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, we hold the manuscript for Merrill’s first novel, The Seraglio, which is brimming with doodles. Some, like those below, are faces or other drawings.
Some of the doodles illustrate the way Merrill puzzled out aspects of his story, as in the doodle below, in which he tests out possible names for a mansion.
In this brief doodle, Merrill considers his character Francis’ motivations.
Recent research suggests that doodling may actually help keep the mind alert and aid in concentration. Rather than being a sign of distraction, the physicality of doodling may help the doodler stave off boredom. Merrill’s doodling, then, might have been an integral part of his creative process, keeping his mind connected to his work during pauses in writing.
Want to see more doodles from our collections? Mariah Leavitt has written about Judge Otis Lord’s cartoon doodles.