Imagine a scrapbook of questions about writing, as well as inspiring quotes about writing, and prompts to serve as catalysts for writing, and you have Lynda Barry’s What It Is, a remarkable writer’s resource to help you explore your imagination and get your words on the page.
The format and design of the book, which is filled with 200 pages of drawings, post-it-like notes, cartoons, collages, and more, can overwhelm a reader at first. The inside front and back covers, for instance, are completely pasted over with notes like “The groove is about a kind of forgetting” and “Where is the image world?” and “Practice sustaining concentration… the rest takes care of itself… like learning a language” and “Not having an experience to write it but writing to have an experience.”
But once you enter the flow, which feels a little like stepping into the author’s consciousness (and, at times, her subconscious), you’ll begin to find your way into the rivulets and stronger currents that will pull you into the process of writing so that you can gain access to “the formless thing which gives thing form.”
Barry’s questions are so thoughtful (and so thought-provoking) that they have the power to inspire you to take your pen and start writing.
Here are a few examples:
What happens when we put words together? What happens when we keep words apart?
How do we recognize something? A person, a situation, a melody, a mood? Where does it come from?
What is a memory? When an unexpected memory comes calling, who answers? (Knock! Knock! Who’s there? An image.)
What happens when we read a story? Even though an image is not a thing to be seen or touched, it can be stored.
Barry, who was born in 1956, “has worked as a printer, cartoonist, writer, illustrator, playwright, editor, commentator, and teacher and found they are very much alike.”
Indeed, this book draws its strength from Barry’s uncanny ability to integrate the many issues that make up the writing process, drawing together a writer’s questions, doubts, and struggle for words in such a way that writing (with all of the doubts and questions and memories and elusive words and stories) becomes a key into the mystery of a larger process called life.
For more information about Barry and her work, visit: