Inspired by Lynda Barry

I [heart] Lynda Barry. Went to Diesel Books in Oakland last night to hear Lynda Barry talk before a book signing. She is amazing! I’ve always loved her comics (comeeks?) but I didn’t realize what an amazing writing teacher she is! She was funny, honest, and incredibly inspirational.

She sings when she’s nervous. She’s really good and unaffected. Sang a little bit of “Groovin’ on a Sunday Afternoon” to illustrate a point: She always heard one line as “You and me and Leslie… grooving etc.” and talked about how that evoked an image of three people groooving or whatever. Years later in her car she realized the line is actually “You and me endlessly,” which she said is a much inferior line, as it evokes almost no image at all.

She pointed out how an editor would prefer the endlessly line as it makes more “sense” and “because you haven’t introduced this Leslie character properly.” She also made a good point about the naysaying editorial voice that chokes off the flow too close to the spigot. She said, “You know when you’re writing and a voice in your head says, ‘This is stupid, I’m an idiot. Why am I doing this? I should quit, etc.’? If you were writing in a bar and some guy came in and said, ‘Why are you doing that? That’s stupid. You’re an idiot.’ etc., you’d immediately know that person was an ass, so why when the voice is in your head do you suddenly tread it like an authority?”

She reminded us that we are all storytellers and writers by birthright. She says the human race spent as much time developing storytelling as music and dance, as long as it took to develop opposable thumbs, she said. It’s only “the man” (one of her favorite expressions) who tells us to leave creativity to the professionals. She compared being creative to child’s play and how it’s one of the ways that we solve problems and understand things.

She talked about the power of memory. To write her latest book, 100 Demons she says she made a big stack of nouns on 3 x 5 cards and would just grab a card and promise herself she’d write a comic panel page about whatever each word evoked. She wrote it all with a brush because she says her computer makes it too easy to delete things.

She used the example of cars. Think about a specific car from your life. Now imagine where it is. Where are you? In the car? Outside it? Can you describe the car? Who else is around? What time of day is it? What time of year? What’s happening? Stories come to mind easily when brought up attached to details. She gave “couch” as another example.

She said her writing students, even when they are turned on to the power of memory and our innate storytelling ability, they still ask what they should write about or what they should do next. She said that this is in one sense a good question but in another sense it’s a really bad question that really doesn’t help you do anything. (I think it comes from fear.)

Her analogy was: suppose I gave the power to be invisible, and fly, and travel through time. Would you say, “I really can’t think of anything to do with these powers”?

She said her brother used to wish he had a time machine that said Future, Past, and Meanwhile….

She pointed out that writing really is time travel. At the very least, I hope someone in the future reads something I wrote and understands what it was like for me to be alive in this time.

She said a lot more that was really inspiring. I wish I could study with her as a teacher because I think she’d be hugely encouraging, but she lives in Evanston, Ill. You can buy signed artwork from her for just $25, though.
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