Is it good? Does it suck?

2questionsTwo questions hold our creativity hostage, according to Lynda Barry.  One: Is it good? Two: Does it suck?

It’s hard to believe that an accomplished artist like Barry understands the forces that hold us back, but she nails it in What It Is.

The book outlines her journey from creative joy to creative dread and back again, and suggests ways to get past the monsters inside. The first step is asking a different question:


Aliveness is the hard part, Barry says.  To get there, you have to “be able to stand not knowing long enough for something alive to take shape.” How? Here’s one exercise she uses in her class.

List the first 10 cars you remember. Pick the one that’s the most vidid and answer these questions. Where are you? What are you doing? Are you in the car or out? Who’s with you? What’s in front of you? Behind you? Why are you there? What time of day is it? What season?

Start with the words “I am…” and write what’s happening. Stay inside the image and keep your hand moving.

I am… in my mom’s white Oldsmobile convertible with bright red seats, riding in the back with my brother—in our pajamas!—to Don and Bob’s. We love D & B’s burgers, so big the patty hangs off the bun, and I’m crazy about their fries. I like to use the little wooden thingy to eat the inside first, then the shell. Just don’t let any ketchup get on them! I hate ketchup!

I bet you’ll see things you haven’t thought of in years, things that are alive for you. And that’s a good place to start.