Tag Archives: writing

Lynda Barry & the “You and Me and Leslie” Writing Workshop

Last week author and cartoonist Lynda Barry (One Hundred Demons, What It Is) stormed the town of White River Junction with her honesty and quirky charm during her two-day writing workshop for CCS students and alumni. “I’m excited to be here, and I was thinking of you all last night while drinking a tiny bottle of whiskey. I felt like a giant. And then I drank another.” She sang songs, acted out South Park episodes, shared stories, and spread out thousands of idea notecards for us to peruse at breaks.

For the next two days we wrote one 8 minute story after another, responding to prompt after prompt as Barry encouraged us to listen to the stories from the Image World already waiting for us in the back of our mind. Her writing method, explained in both of her books, follows these general guidelines:


1) You must write out all of your stories by hand.

2) You may not read over what you are writing while you are writing it.

3) If you get stuck, keep your pen moving by drawing your spiral. Continue writing when ready.

4) You may not read over what you have written when finished, except for while reading out loud to the entire class, during which

5) No one may look at the person reading.

6) No one may comment on what has been read except for Lynda, who always says “good! good! good!” after each story.

7) You may not talk about the writing until the very end of the workshop.


To read out loud without being able to first look back over your writing is pretty terrifying indeed, but the stories that people had written were breathtaking and complete, wonderful little first draft shorts done from start to finish in less than 15 minutes. Incredible! Who knew writing could be easy?

One of my favorite insights that Barry shared was on the song “Groovin'” by the Rascals. Like her, I had always heard the lyrics as “Life would be ecstasy, you and me and LESLIE,” and wondered ‘who is this Leslie person? A man? A woman? Is this a threesome he’s singing about? Maybe Leslie is their child.’ Barry pointed out that from an editorial point of view, ‘Leslie’ isn’t properly introduced and should thus be cut from the song. But the lyrics ACTUALLY say “Life would be ecstasy, you and me ENDLESSLY.” Which makes more sense, right? But is also completely general and boring! The Image of Leslie is lost, killed off, edited out, and replaced with a non-image concept word.

The more specific an Image is in a story–the more of a handle it provides into the world of a character–the more universal and relatable an Image becomes to a reader. How cool is that?

A huge thanks to Lynda Barry for her fabulous class! I’m already writing more, and I plan to keep it up.

June (thus far!)

After taking a month off from writing and drawing to complete my MFA and a trip home to see family, getting back into my work groove has proved to be a lot more difficult than I expected. Chapter 1 of Hieroglyph had me stumped for several days, whispering convincing threats that the No Talent Police would be knocking on my door momentarily. Though that didn’t happen, I DID get pulled over for the first time for having an expired registration sticker. “Golly gee, officer! This is my first time being pulled over!” Imagine the doctor and Main Street from the film State and Main, add a police uniform and a little note pad, and you will have an image of the smiling gentleman who gave me a warning ticket. All he needed was a bow tie. Golly, it would have been great if he’d had a bow tie.

Things are finally moving on Hieroglyph, though I’m not convinced the momentum will last for long. Making a book is a puzzle that needs constant attention. It’s so satisfying when something works! and so crushing when a lead goes nowhere. But little by little I know I’ll figure it out. And if not, and the No Talent Police come to get me, my only wish is for them to be wearing bow ties.

Draw! Scan! Redraw! Print! Draw! Write! Again!

We’re in the thesis homestretch!! This semester is going by so fast I can hardly believe it. I’ve finally started a binder with empty plastic sleeves to hold the drafts of my Egypt project, moving from the full 180+ page thumbnailed rough first draft into the penciling stages for a section of the story. Here’s a sample two page spread from the section I’ve been working on this week:

Above is a spread of my initial thumbnails, executed on the Wacom tablet and printed to fit on 8.5X11 paper.  They are clean, but really boring: see all those medium “two-shots” I am using? This is fine in an early writing stage, but I think the panels can do a lot more to tell the story. So using a light box I then put a new sheet of paper on top of the thumbnails and do a first pass at penciling, which looks like this:

There is a lot of mess and clutter, I’ve taped in new panels, struggled with the perspective of the lounge chairs on the cruise ship, all the while trying to focus on composition, composition, composition. “What is this panel doing for the story? Can it be cut? Do I need more information? Do I need all this dialogue? Is the story moving forward? How’s my pacing? Where do the word balloons go?  Why would a grown person spend so much time filling in little boxes with pictures?” I then scan in this drawing and use the Wacom tablet again to clean things up, resize, and drop in some Google Sketch-Up lounge chairs to get them to look right, and print it again:

Now I’m pretty happy with this spread. I stick it in my binder on top of the first two drafts and keep moving forward. This is pretty much ready to pencil onto Bristol board with blue pencil, so that I can ink on top of the blue lines and delete them in Photoshop. This week I’ve done about 9 pages like this, a scene that falls in the latter half of Act 2 of my story. I’m hoping to get through about 30 pages like this, and then ink and color a sample by the time the year is through. Back to work!

Tomb of the Diver

The Tomb of the Diver is an archaeological monument in Paestum, Italy. I have been there, I have seen it, and it is breath taking; a Greco-Roman vision of Dreaming and Eternity. While walking home tonight the famed diver came to mind, gracefully suspended above the water, contemplating the unknown. What waits beneath the surface of an idea? Deep places, dark monsters, and a lot of uncertainty. But it is time to stop stalling and jump in.

Inspired by the Tomb of the Diver

Language, and matters of the soul

Flaubert wrote to his lover in his second year of working on Madame Bovary that “everything one invents is true,” and that “poetry is just as precise as geometry. Induction is as valid as deduction, and after a certain point, one is never wrong about matters of the soul.”

Roald Hoffman, Nobel Prize winning chemist, finds that science has a great deal in common with poetry. “The language of science is a language under stress. Words are being made to describe things that seem indescribable in words– equations, chemical structures and so forth. Words do not, cannot mean all that they stand for, yet they are all we have to describe experience. By being a natural language under tension, the language of science is inherently poetic. There is metaphor aplenty in science. Emotions emerge shaped as states of matter and more interestingly, matter acts out what goes on in the soul. One thing is certainly not true: that scientists have some greater insight into the workings of nature than poets… Poetry soars, all around the tangible, in deep dark, through a world we reveal and make.”

Graphic designer turned rock star Chip Kidd states in an interview that books are very much theater of the mind, and that “writing is really designing with words, taking language to create a pure experience in the reader’s mind.”

I like all of these ideas.

They inspire me to be a better writer, a better designer, and a better visual storyteller.

Now back to work!