Lynda Barry’s Pep Talk
Reconsider your hand. Reconsider writing by hand. There is a kind of story that comes from hand. Writing which is different from a tapping-on-a-keyboard-kind-of-story. For one thing, there is no delete button, making the experience more life like right away. You can’t delete the things you feel unsure about and because of this, the things you feel unsure about have a much better chance of being able to exist long enough to reveal themselves. And the physical activity of writing by hand involves many parts of the brain which are used in story making such as time, place, action, characters, relationships, and moving forward across an entire connected gesture. And that’s just what goes on when we write a single letter by hand.
Although word count goals may be harder to reach, your body will not feel as tired as it does after a day spent tapping buttons and staring at a lit screen, especially if you write a bit longer than you usually do.
Another thing to reconsider is reading over what you have written. If you can stand to wait 24 hours before you decide the fate of what you have written—either good or bad—you’re more likely to see that invisible thing that is invisible for the first few days in any new writing. We just can’t know what all is in a sentence until there are several sentences to follow it. Pages of writing need more pages in order to be known, chapters need more chapters. The 24 hour period will give you time to create more of the things the writing needs. 48 hours is even better, and a week is ideal.
Can you keep your story going for a week without reading anything over? You’ll find you can. You’ll find that being able to rely on this ability will help you let one word follow the next without fussing as much as you do when you believe it’s the thinking and planning part of your mind that is writing the story. There is another part of the mind which has an ability for stories, for holding all the parts and presenting them bit by bit, but it’s not the same as the planning part of the mind. Nor is it the thing called ‘unconscious’—it is without a doubt quite conscious when we are engaged in the physical activity which allows it to be active. This something is what deep playing contains when we are children and fully engaged by rolling a toy car and all who are inside of it toward the table edge. The word imagination isn’t quite right for it either because it also leaves out the need for moving an object—a toy, a pen or pencil tip—across an area in the physical world. It’s a very old, human thing, using physical activity along with thing ‘thing’ that is neither all the way inside of us nor all the way outside of us. Stories happen in that place between the two. The Image world isn’t anywhere else. A computer can give you a neat looking page, higher word count and delete and copy and past abilities, but they are poor producers of the thing the hand brings about much more easily: Right here, right now, the pane of paper that the paper windows and walls require to give is the inside view, the vista.
You can’t know what a book is about until the very end. This is true of a book we’re reading or writing.
Writing by hand is like walking instead of riding in a car. It’s slower, to be sure, but you’ll smell the smoke if you’re near a house that is about to burst into flame. You’ll hear the shouting from a fight about to break out in a back yard. You’ll be able to help the dog who comes running by with his leash attached and dragging behind him, and be able to help the person who has lost him calling his name. This will make writing more like living
and less like watching television.
When writing by hand, when the story dries up temporarily—as it always does, try keeping your pen in motion anyway by writing the alphabet a b c d e f g in the middle of the sentence a b c d e f g h i j k until the sentence rolls forward again on its own. Just keep your pen steadily rolling along through time, for a good time.
To learn more about Lynda Barry’s work, visit her website!