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NOTEBOOK: Avoiding the Dead Bird Quality in my Writing

June 22, 2010

There are few books that rock my writing style to the point of re-invention. Many narrative styles influence the way I write, or challenge my previous notions of style, yet rarely am I completely and utterly in awe of a book and surrender all previous sense of expression at the mercy of well written text.

Reading Lynda Barry’s “What It Is” is what a call ‘ a life-changer.’

life changer /lahyf chānj’ər/ adj. 1. an artistic text that moves the reader so much so that his or her perspective of their existence is dramatically altered. 2. one moment that changes everything.

Let me be clear about something. The writing in the book (actually, graphic novel) is sparse (there are much more images than words) yet it is the vulnerability, honesty and presentation of the narrative that compels me to stop writing how I have been for (about) 23 years and start anew.

Anyone, who likes to write, who likes to draw, who used to be good at something until they realized that ten other kids in your grade are substantially better at that thing you THOUGHT you could do well, should read this book.

Bottom line is the book, graphic novel, multi-media experience, whatever you’d like to call it,  challenges everything about our inner-thinkings with playfulness and close examination. One of the many memorable quotes from Barry’s book is to “avoid the dead bird quality” in your writing. Her remedy for all things ‘deadish’ is to remain image driven.  It are our images that haunt our dreams, electrify our memory, become our friends, and lock our most abstract thoughts in place. I went out and bought a black artists’ notebook with no lines to test out Barry’s theory and (although I will not vouch for better writing, I will say that) my writing overall has been non-restrictive. That’s the name of the game: word vomit, word soup, words dreaming and bubbling out of me without filters or screens. Words falling out of my head when I rest on a pillow.  I’ll worry about the quality (and it is running up close behind) once I’ve really meditated and actualized the image within.

This notebook post turned into a book review (or book praise) very quickly.

I must also be clear about something else; I am not commissioned by Lynda Barry or the CBC but express my love for both things as a free-agent. I’m obsessed with CBC radio’s podcasts and first heard about the imfamous Lynda Barry through “Writers & Company.”

Check it out, or don’t. Or write about an image around you and post it below. Or don’t (but you wish you did!)


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