Today I wanted to talking about a cool book I read by the amazing cartoonist, writer and teacher,ย Lynda Barry.

It’s called : What It Is; Don’t you wish you could write? I know what you’re thinking: this is a photo blog not a writing blog. But bear with me…this book was transformative for me and I want to share with you why.


We all have goals and mine is to become a better writer. Ok, thats not exactly true, what I really want is to write my own, original stories. But I’m scared; scared of failure which makes it hard to get started. Goals are great to have, but not if you don’t take that first step.

Last fall I came across Ms Barry’s book and the companion book Picture This: The near-sighted monkey book, and I was immediately intrigued. Somewhere in the back of my brain I had heard of Ms Barry’s excellent writing courses she taught in Florida. I was intrigued how a famous visual artist becomes a well renowned writer. So I bought both books and they promptly started gathering dust on my book shelf. Until recently the books were better door stops than inspiration.

Inner space creatures

What It Is, is 1/3 memoir, 1/3 pep talk and 1/3 creative exercises. Each page is a dense and chaotic mix of words and hand drawn images. You feel like you’re trespassing on a private journal, not a book designed to help you begin writing. While the book is an easy read, there are so many wonderful ideas filling each page, it pays to slow down and explore every piece of text.

When I came across the page pictured below, I knew I was in the right place. There are people who are in the toy photography community who look at toys as only bits of plastic. I am not one of those people. There is a reason that the latest LEGO CMF”s are rarely seen in my photos. I haven’t connected with them. They are not my friends ย (yet) because friendships take time to develop. I enjoy photographing my friends having fun. Because when Im honest with myself, my toy imagery is simply my inner life on display for all to see. In the words of Lynda Barry: my toys are outfits for inner space creatures.

“The same toy is not the same for anybody else.” Does this statement ring true for you too?

The can

By the time I had made it to page 46 I was hooked. But it wasn’t until I reached page 140 that I knew I was in the presence of profound wisdom. Remember that post from a few weeks back when I asked about faking it until you make it? What do you do if you don’t know what making it means? Your comments on this post are amazing and I encourage everyone to go back and read them. But it wasn’t until I read page 140 that it all came together for me. After writing that post and then reading your comments, I was ready to hear what Ms Barry had to say:

When I read this page for the first time I was so excited! Can it really be this easy to find meaning from a creative pursuit?

I now realize that we do what we do because it makes us feel alive. Being creative brings meaning to our lives in the most unexpected ways. Sure our kids, family and friends and other personal connections bring meaning to our lives. But a creative activity is special. It helps to give our lives a special focus and even joy.

The shift

Enough procrastinating! It was time to start the writing. One of the many pieces of wisdom in this crazy book is that

Thinking up stories is hard. Its easier to get them to come to you. ~ Lynda Barry

Gosh that sounds familiar. I remember a post from not that far back that talks about the same idea, but with images. Properly inspired I spent the afternoon sitting in the sun, on a snowy mountain, doing the first few exercises in the book. As I was working on them I felt a shift inside me. This shift felt like I was finally becoming unblocked. I felt lighter and I could feel the images in my head bubbling up. I couldn’t stop grinning (fyi: this not my normal facial expression!)

It’s been along time since I felt this good about what I’m creating. I know who may audience is and I know the images that I want to make. Now I simply need to continue carving out the time for more writing practice as well as staying open to receiving the images that are floating around me.

I’m well aware that this is not an original idea. It’s not even the idea I set out to make (I will create that next week in Utah at the toy meet-up), but it’s the one that wanted to be created today


If you’re interested in becoming a writer or are feeling stuck creatively I highly recommend this book. It’s very accessible and a lot of fun! All the hard won wisdom learned from a life time of being a painter, cartoonist, writer, illustrator, playwright, editor, commentator and teacher is freely shared with anyone who is interested in listening. This is the kind of book you can either read on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Or open to a random page to discover some amazing bit of information you either forgot or missed the first time. Like all truly great gifts, this one keeps on giving the more you read and open up to the process.

And if you think this book isn’t for you because you have no interest in becoming a writer, I encourage you to listen to the wise Ms Barry:

Though we use writing here, once you feel what an image is, the form is up to you. ~ Lynda Barry

It turns out inspiration can come from the most unexpected places.


I’m sure you’ve told me before – but where does your inspiration come from? Do you find your images or do you let them come to you? Do you have a favorite story you draw from or do you dig deep into your childhood?ย