Tag Archives: Lynda Barry

The problem with thinking

The problem with “thinking”

What works best, as a way in? The idea, or the image?

The problem with THINKING (about IDEAS) in your HEAD.

(This is adapted from a presentation I gave at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop in March of 2018.)

How many times have you heard others (or yourself) say or think, “I can’t think of anything to write!” Lynda Barry talks about why thinking isn’t the way to get anywhere. Moving away from having to think of an IDEA to write about, toward accessing what she calls the IMAGE WORLD. She makes a distinction between the top of the brain and the back of the mind (where the images live). (If you don’t know about Lynda Barry, look her up! The book SYLLABUS is a great resource, as are her TED talks and YouTube exercise videos.)

In a college class I was teaching in 2018, I noticed how this tension works itself out when I used a prompt from Nick Bantock’s THE TRICKSTER’S HAT and asked students to write a list of “unusual” things that have happened to them. I saw them engage in the act of not-writing: they got caught on thinking WHAT IS UNUSUAL? And that question (and the judgment built into the tag of “unusual”) engaged a less-helpful part of their brains. It led me to gather more evidence about what I have experienced: THINKING is kind of a problem, actually, when we’re trying to start from scratch, and come up with the stuff to write about. At least it’s a problem for me. Put another way—THINKING (in that way) doesn’t help start or sustain the flow state I want and need when I am writing.

Another example: In 2016 when I was WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE with Lynda Barry at the Omega Institute, the rule was that we were to draw our daily self-portraits (2 minute index card drawing of ourselves in various scenarios) and introduce our portraits to our neighbors (let the index card self portraits meet each other). On Thursday, Lynda asked us to draw ourselves dancing. We did so. I held my card up to the card of the person next to me, and she said something like “oh, I love how you…” (whatever she said escapes me now) and I FELT THE OXYGEN LEAVE THE ROOM. Just because this well-intentioned human next to me made specific comments about what I drew! I always think about that when I teach, and when I write.

The thing seems to be how to keep the most possible oxygen in the room, in the practice, to sustain the process of creation.

When we’re going to write, we have to move from stagnation and stillness—from the cold state of not-writing. What often stops me is the inner critic. I think the inner critic is connected to that thinking part of the brain.

We have to get moving. We have to start by NOT getting stopped.

The inner critic is everywhere! But that won’t stop us, no!

IMG_20180405_101038871.jpgRecently I had the pleasure of teaching at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop‘s Dive Into Your Story: Where do you get your ideas?We dealt with the inner critic and how to renegotiate the relationship, moving aside the noise so we can get to getting ideas, and writing.

You who read this blog know I write & think about the inner critic all the time, so it was very fun to share those practices (inspired by Gayle BrandeisLynda Barry, Bonni Goldberg, Amy Cuddy, and others) with the humans at the workshop.

After the workshop, I got an email from one of the participants, Fredrick Marion. I’m always thrilled when the inner critic takes visual form, gets post office box, and becomes capable of receiving a Dear Inner Critic letter. Kudos to the writers who make that happen. Here’s Fredrick’s letter…Enjoy!

p.s. You might also want to subscribe to Fredrick’s awesome newsletter.

p.p.s. To engage with your inner critic, here’s a place to start.

IMG_20180405_100933660.jpg

 

“Go away, you rainsnout…” NOVEMBER! (30 days with the inner critic)

photo of Gaunt park at sunset

Dear people,

I am issuing a gift/challenge/invitation for the month of November (a month I love to abhor, by way of Tom Waits’ “November,” which you can see him perform here and read lyrics below.).

(If you read this after November, it’s never too late. Start anytime! And this does not have to be elaborate. You can simply do a 2 minute power pose, then write “Dear Inner Critic” across the top of a page, and write a letter. Or skip the power pose—though if you’ve never tried a power pose, it might be useful. It might help you feel stronger as you approach the letter.)

*

Every day, for 30 days, communicate with the inner critic. (If you miss a day, okay. But do as many days as you can.) (If you don’t know what the inner critic is, good for you! You don’t need this practice. If you do need it, read on.)

This work involves free-writing without stopping, without editing. The general rules are to keep writing for a set amount of time (or one page), and if you don’t know what to write, just write the words “tick tick tick” until you get back to what you are writing. If you only have 5 minutes, that’s fine! It can still be very useful. (The “tick tick tick” is courtesy of Lynda Barry, whom I’ve blogged about here.)

OPTIONAL PREPARATION (Not mandatory, but helpful):

DAY ONE: Get paper and pen.

Imagine, describe, SEE the inner critic. (If you watch Lynda Barry’s video, you might think of the inner critic as the mom with the bacon, interrupting the kid in the middle of his playing to say, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”) It’s fun to start by drawing the Inner Critic—use the Lynda Barry method using a random shape, then making it into a monster or character. Whatever works! But don’t think it in your head. Instead, move pen on paper to make the thing come to life (and to get it out of your body). Set a timer for 2 or 3 minutes if it helps. You can describe the inner critic with words if you want to. The point is to somehow embody (on paper) the inner critic. When you’re done drawing or writing the character, take a moment to name this thing.

Then on a new page, write Dear Inner Critic… and write a letter, as long as you want. Sign your name when you’re done. (I’ve done this with young people who have asked “Can I use bad words?” Yes. You can use bad words.) 

DAY TWO (& BEYOND)

Write a letter to the inner critic/monster/thingy every day for 30 days. You can also try any of the activities below if you get bored with letters. But remember, boredom is often good and necessary! I’ve done a letter every day for 30 days. One page at the beginning of my morning pages. (If you don’t know what the morning pages are, go here.) When I wrote a one page letter to my inner critic for 30 days, I arrived at some plateaux where I thought I was saying the same thing day after day (and thought, This isn’t getting me anywhere!). It got a little boring. But I kept doing it day after day, and noticed that things began to shift. I gained some pretty nuanced understanding of the dynamic between “me” and the inner critic (which is part of me, of course, which is part of the point). Among other things.

Alternatives to the daily letter (use any or all, combine, okay!):

  • Write the GIFT that you would give your inner critic. (It’s my suspicion that there is something the inner critic is lacking.) Describe the gift in great detail, how you would wrap the gift, etc. Really give time to What’s missing? What do they need? You might try: Dear Inner Critic, if I could give you a gift, it would be… (What is his/her/their/its deepest unmet need?) (You can also give them something you want to give them, but which they would not necessarily want!)
  • Write a dialogue between you and critic—you get the first line and the last line!
  • Write a physical fight scene!
  • Draw a one-page comic! Color it in! Good, good good!

If you know some friends who want to do this together (every day, or at some point in the month) maybe after you write, someone will want to read back what they wrote. If so, while the person reads, everyone else must draw a slow, careful spiral a la Lynda Barry’s practice, and listen quietly–MOST IMPORTANTLY, GIVE NO FEEDBACK!

Take care of yourself. This inner critic practice can be hard and upsetting, so please do figure out what support you need. It can bring up stuff that might need more time and attention than you can easily give it. Have a cup of tea or some sitting and breathing (or whatever nourishes you) as needed, and be extra generous with yourself now.

Please let me know how it goes! I’m going to do it, too. (Eeek!)

Love, Rebecca

p.s. I’ve written about self-doubt here.

p.p.s. I’ve written about the inner critic practice, including some of my letters, here.

p.p.p.s. If this practice is useful to you, remember: YOU CAN DO THIS ANYTIME! You don’t have to do it for a whole month. Have a job interview? Put the inner critic in its place before you brush your teeth that day! Find the inner critic something else to DO while you do what you need & want to do (without static from the inner critic).

*

No shadow
No stars
No moon
No cars
NovemberIt only believes
In a pile of dead leaves
And a moon
That’s the color of boneNo prayers for November
To linger longer
Stick your spoon in the wall
We’ll slaughter them allNovember has tied me
To an old dead tree
Get word to April
To rescue me
November’s cold chainMade of wet boots and rain
And shiny black ravens
On chimney smoke lanes
November seems odd
You’re my firing squad
November

With my hair slicked back
With carrion shellac
With the blood from a pheasant
And the bone from a hare

Tied to the branches
Of a roebuck stag
Left to wave in the timber
Like a buck shot flag

Go away you rainsnout
Go away blow your brains out
November

 

Register NOW for Writer’s Play Time!

IMG_0232

WRITER’S PLAY TIME

Rediscover and liberate your sense of play! Unleash your creative spark! Demystify and disarm the inner critical voice that’s holding you back! Nourish any creative process. Inspired by the work of Lynda Barry (Artist and author of WHAT IT IS and SYLLABUS) we will write and draw and move. Please wear comfortable clothing. Must be 13 years or older.

WHERE: Yellow Springs Library

WHEN: Sunday, September 10, 2017 from 2-4  PM

Register now!

Use your hands.

img_0214.jpg

I just found a great piece of advice (with an exercise!) from Lynda Barry on the Omega website.

“I’m worried about our relationship to our hands, and the kind of intuition they make possible. One of the things I love to do is help people find ways to reestablish that relationship. People long for creative activity without realizing it really is right at their fingertips.” –Lynda Barry

 

Visit this link to find more, and do the exercise.

 

Mark your calendars: (Free!) Writer’s Play Time in September

IMG_20170626_143428083

(Photo: Venice, Italy, June 2017. Activity: anywhere, anytime.)

I’m thrilled to offer WRITER’S PLAY TIME, a FREE (!) WORKSHOP AT YELLOW SPRINGS LIBRARY, Sunday, September 10, 2017. In other words:

Rediscover and liberate your sense of play! Unleash your creative spark! Demystify and disarm the inner critical voice that’s holding you back! Nourish any creative process. Inspired by the work of Lynda Barry (Artist and author of WHAT IT IS and SYLLABUS) we will write and draw and move. Please wear comfortable clothing. 13 yrs and older.

Limited space—Registration opens on August 20. For more information, please visit the library event page.

Everyone gets an A

IMG_0232

Summer 2016, Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, NY

“Everyone gets an A for napping.”

—Lynda Barry, 7/25/16, WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE, Rhinebeck, NY.

Craving Omega (an ode to tahini)

IMG_0271

(Me, Barbi, and Divyam, after our last meal together at Omega)

Last summer, I went to the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, for a workshop with Lynda Barry. (I’ve blogged about her here.) The food at Omega was really good and really healthy. There was a lot of tahini, especially in a delicious salad dressing, as I recall, though it was so good, and there was a lot of dreaming that week, so I might have dreamed it.

When I got home, I realized it had been a couple days since I ate any tahini and my body felt weird, so got out the Moosewood Cookbook, and from it devised/improvised a tahini salad dressing which I shall now unveil for you. Sometimes (often) my body craves this stuff. When I eat it, it sends me back to the magical experience of WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE, and I feel good. Enjoy!

Crush a clove of garlic and put it in a small jar or cup or bowl or something you can easily stir within. Add a few tablespoons of plain (unflavored) yogurt, and about the same amount of tahini, and stir/mash it all around. Add a few squeezes of lemon juice, and about the same amount of tamari. (I never measure any of this, by the way.) Mix it well (with a fork or whatever you have handy). There’s no precise way. I learned to put the yogurt in first so that the tahini goes into the yogurt and doesn’t stick to the walls of the vessel as much. Experiment! You could add any number of herbs, etc. If it’s too thick, add some more lemon juice, or tamari, or a little bit of water, just enough to thin it but not dilute the flavor. Taste as you go, and you’ll see how you like to change things.

It’s especially good on cabbage and blanched broccoli…really any healthy veg will love this dressing, and will remind me of Omega. I have even eaten apples dipped in it! Delicious.

Dreaming of Omega…

 

 

Short story accepted!

I’m thrilled to announce that my short story “Curb Day” was accepted for Shadows and Tall Trees 7, forthcoming from Undertow Publications. It’s particularly exciting to me because, as I blogged here, in writing this piece, I adapted a process from Lynda Barry‘s process…and it was such fun to dig through compost from last spring’s embryonic essay about junk week and turn it into a story. I’m grateful to Michael Kelly at Undertow for accepting the results. Shadows and Tall Trees 7 will be available in March 2017.

writing from typing, typing from writing, etc.

img_0186

Day 2 at Omega (how to make faces)

After writing the short story I blogged about here, I tried another Lynda Barry-inspired approach. Looking at a problematic paragraph in my almost-finished novel (a reader had noticed some point of view shifts and was pulled out of the story), rather than my usual method (just working on the paragraph by pruning where I could, or cutting it, or moving it) I thought I’d try handwriting it (double-spacing with extra lines like Lynda Barry had us do) to see what would happen. When I felt like speeding up, I slowed down the making of shapes and focused on the curves of the cursive.  By doing that, I was able to get outside the oppressive overmind that usually does this level of editing in my work, and realized where the shifts happened in the paragraph, what I needed to omit. The white space between lines was crucial. Turns out the second part of the problematic paragraph is maybe a better fit for my “new” novel (which I have barely started) but at any rate, it was a great procedure! I don’t think I would have noticed, had I not used this approach, with the slow handwriting, and the extra spaces in between lines. (In WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE at Omega, Lynda Barry said that sometimes all you need is some white space.) Then I retyped the newly cleaved passages from the handwriting, and pasted the parts I was keeping back into their respective novel files.

Retyping was important: though many of the sentences had not changed much, it felt like changing the linens. It refreshed the writing.

So cool! In this back and forth between handwriting and typing and handwriting, I’ve met a sort of wall of water where there are two separate worlds, but this process is a portal between them. And it goes both ways! Freaking magical.

(Thank you, Professor Andretti!)