November 2016 Inside: ▪ Lynda Barry and innate creativity▪ Kickstart students publish anthology▪ Writing prompt: Belonging▪ Wanted: Lost tribe me

Kickstart Your Writing Blue

November 2016



Lynda Barry and innate creativity
Kickstart students publish anthology
Writing prompt: Belonging
Wanted: Lost tribe members
Market tip: Details matter in poetry submissions
Showcase: “Waiting to Be Born” (excerpt) by Stuart Grace Greene

Kerry McPherson

Kerry McPherson

Lynda Barry and innate creativity

By Kerry McPherson

“We know that athletes, musicians and actors all have to practice, rehearse, and repeat things until it gets into the body, the ‘muscle memory.’ But for some reason, writers and visual artists think they have to be inspired before they make something. Not suspecting the physical act of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration. Worrying about its worth and value to others before it exists can keep us immobilized forever. Any picture we make or story we write cannot demonstrate its worth until we draw or write it. The answer can’t come to us any other way.”

—Lynda Barry

I have been drawn to the curious mind and profound ideas of writer, cartoonist, and teacher Lynda Barry, who believes that an energy is captured in a drawing during the experience of making it. Barry describes seeing an “aliveness” in drawings that most people would consider “bad” or childish. The people who create these images are people who stopped drawing a long time ago.

Once someone is taught how to draw, says Barry, their images lose this aliveness. Many artists spend the rest of their careers trying to get it back. Barry found that she was unable to copy most of the images that were drawn by her students who “didn’t know how” to draw. That surprised her because Barry is a good copier.

Personally, I believe that the energy that is transferred from something we call art can touch a place in viewers that can excite them and make them want to create.

For her class called What It Is, Barry studied where images come from, hoping to help her students who had stopped drawing a long time ago tap into their innate creativity. In class she had them draw seemingly simple things, like a car or Batman. While the students were drawing, they were having an experience. There was a lot of involuntary laughter in the room because the students were not just drawing but telling a story. These stories unfold the moment they make their way to the paper. If the person doesn’t stop themselves, they have no problem discovering the story.

Barry calls the lines in drawings created this way “live wires” because an aliveness is captured in them that gets transferred to the viewer. “It’s not alive in the way that you or I are alive…but it’s alive in the way the ocean is alive and is able to transport us,” Barry says.

In the end, most of the drawings looked like they had been drawn by a little kid. When Barry asked the students to stand up and look at each others’ drawings, there was instantly a terror in the room.

“All we did was draw a car but the room feels like it’s on fire,” she says. “Why?”

When Barry asked the students draw a second image, there was so much shame in the new drawings that the students wanted to destroy their pictures―to get rid of them immediately.

“Instead of liking or disliking, we need to learn to pay attention to things as they are,” says Barry. Liking and disliking are blinders that keep us from our experience.

In my opinion, we should apply that non-judgmental attitude to both our own work and to others’ work. I think that everybody can write fiction, just like everybody can draw. But our critical eye or voice that judges what comes out of us prevents us from doing so.

At some point, someone―or even ourselves―told us that we couldn’t do it. Or that it was bad. And we believed it. We held onto that thought even though it wasn’t true.

When we were kids we didn’t have any problems “playing” and making up stories. Writing or drawing as an adult is the same thing. It’s about having an experience and going on a journey with your imagination. Maybe it’s not going to be a masterpiece, but that’s not what the endeavor is about. It’s about the experience. When you’re done, you can just walk away and go play in the other room. You work doesn’t need to be judged. It can just be.

I wonder whether short stories written by someone who stopped writing fiction a long time ago would have the same aliveness as the drawings that Barry describes. There’s a good chance they wouldn’t just because of the difference in the medium. But it seems that a certain energy would be captured by opening ourselves up to a place we’ve been disconnected from for so long.

What do you think? If you have experiences to share about making art that is alive, rather than good or bad, email them to Nancy Woods for possible publication in a future issue of Kickstart.

BeLonging cover

Kickstart students publish anthology

November marks the release of BeLonging, the fourth anthology by the Woodshop Writers, who study their craft under the guidance of writing instructor and Kickstart publisher Nancy Woods.

In BeLonging you will read about home and homelessness, exploration and discovery, identity, growth, change, and understanding of both self and others. Together the pieces describe a wide range of human experience. They underscore how basic and vital a sense of belonging is for everyone, and how many different forms belonging can take.

BeLonging is available for purchase online and at three upcoming readings by the Woodshop Writers: Jamie Caulley, Catherine Magdalena, Kerry McPherson, Anika Moje, Mark Robben, Howard Schneider, and Ann Sihler.

Join them at Broadway Books on Tuesday, November 29 (7 p.m.); St. Johns Coffee Roasters on Saturday, December 10 (2 p.m.); and Annie Bloom’s Books on Monday, January 16 (7 p.m.).

Writing Prompt

Writing prompt:


What group or groups do you belong to, or wish you belonged to? Have you ever left a group? Started your own group? Felt left out of a group? Write about that.

Wanted: Lost tribe members

In her recent blog post, Kickstart publisher Nancy Woods fondly describes her tribe—a tiny, imaginary group of right-handed, left-wing writers and artists for whom “life is so tender and vulnerable, so flimsy and fleeting, so painfully precious that we’re forced to continually capture it with words, on film and on canvas.” If you, too, feel compelled to document every exquisite event in life instead of simply living it, perhaps you are a long-lost member. If so, see Nancy about being reunited with your clan.

Market tip:

Details matter in poetry submissions

Are you ready to submit your poetry for publication for the first time? Before you do, follow the advice of writer Emily Harstone and check that your capitalization and punctuation are consistent with current practices for poetry. Doing so will demonstrate your attention to detail (always a good thing with editors!) and keep you from being labeled a novice submitter.

Because poetry is a condensed form in which every element, however small, has significance, details like capitalization and punctuation matter. Harstone recommends (1) not capitalizing the first word of every line (it’s distracting), (2) breaking lines where it will enhance the meaning of the poem, instead of automatically at commas, periods, and other punctuation marks, and (3) punctuating consistently and sensibly throughout the poem, just as you would with prose. For examples and more explanation, see Harstone’s post in Authors Publish.

The good news is that these tips are easy to follow, the mistakes easy to avoid. Also, you may actually have fun playing with line breaks, as a way of exploring and bringing out more meaning from your poem. Enjoy!

Student Showcase

Student showcase: “Waiting to Be Born” by Stuart Grace Greene

Although Stuart just recently joined a Kickstart writing class, he has been writing for decades, both professionally (as a science writer) and personally. Stuart writes poetry, fiction, and memoir for pleasure and discovery. He says that he loves writing poetry “because it wells up in me from a different place than any other type of writing.” Many of his ideas for new poems are sparked by his experiences of altered states of consciousness, such as during Zen meditation and long acupuncture sessions. Stuart has a scientific background. He is currently working on two books about his primary areas of original research—evolutionary ecosystems biology and the underlying biophysical mechanisms of consciousness.

Waiting to Be Born

I invite you to ruin a canvas,
to raise your brushes high and pound them down
on the quivering drum skin of a blank frame.

In colors bright and bold pound out your ambitions,
your frustrations, your passions and confusions.
Slam down the disjointed rhythm of your urgencies
and your certainties, if, by some miracle, any remain,
and watch as all your true and brilliant colors run together
and converge in an ugly muddle of entropic brown.

And then ruin another canvas, and another, and another,
fill your closets, your attic, your basement with your magnificent failures,
ruin everything you touch with the simple justice of striving.
Ruin everything until one day, without warning,
something true appears beneath your brush,
standing bright and still,
and refuses to go away.

It might be a flower, or a bird, or the fullness of a yellowing moon.
It might be the imagined reflection of your own face,
caught between Mona Lisa shades of hopelessness and wonder.

Whatever appears, cherish it.
Throw away everything you know and start again here.
Rebuild your world in its image,
for this is the one thing, the only thing you can truly trust.

Embrace it as an axiom, a perfect and unchallenged atom of truth
from which all the diverse molecules of love and reason are born.

Follow it as an equation of motion, the sinuous calculus
of every infinite and infinitesimal thing.

Trust it to be the very compass of your soul
and everything you touch will lead you home,
where this one true thing has always been.
Where you have always been.
Waiting to be born.

Nancy and Ann

A Nancy Woods production

Thanks for reading Kickstart, which is a publication of Nancy Woods—author and writing coach. If you have any comments about the newsletter, feel free to email them to Nancy or her newsletter sidekick Ann Sihler.

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