Get Your Creative Juices Flowing with this Unconventional Graphic Memoir

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo this month? Because I sure am, despite being in five vigorous library technician courses right now and being deeply invested in binging Attack on Titan, because what’s a better way to get school work done than by stressing yourself out with another project that seems much more appealing?

Seriously though, as an occasional freelance non-fiction and poetry writer, the prospect of NaNoWriMo seems like the most intimidating venture possible. And yet here we are!

If you’re in the same boat as me, check out WPL’s Write-In Sessions for NaNoWriMo, as well as WPL’s ongoing Teen Writing Group! There’s also lots of great resources to support people taking on this noble venture on the NaNoWriMo website.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I would also like to recommend a slightly unconventional book that may encourage your creativity, regardless of your participation in NaNoWriMo. Check out What It Is by Lynda Barry!

First published in 2008 by darling indie Montreal-based publishers Drawn & Quarterly, What It Is is a wonderful graphic memoir combining how Barry came to comic-making and writing with exercises for writing and drawing. Not to be outdone, it also includes a gorgeous bizarro introduction to the land that is home to Barry’s dreams and memories, and doesn’t forget about what goes bump in the night. Barry uses mixed media in this book – collage, comics, and handwritten pages – that are all put together in the most surreal and gently encouraging way.

I was first introduced to What It Is in my grade 12 Writer’s Craft class by an English teacher who I adored. He led us in one of Barry’s many writing exercises that rely on evocative key words, memories, dreams, and images.

The main reason why I love this book as a writing tool is because it is surprisingly low pressure – the exercises are generally timed in 5- or 10-minute intervals, and if you can’t think of what to write, just keeping your pen moving is an incredible way to still connect with the storytelling-part of yourself. Barry calls this “spiraling out,” where you start to draw a spiral in the middle of the page as long as you need to, even until the time is up. Time spent reflecting on one’s dreams and memories is never time wasted, and I feel her exercises are a perfect balance of structure and flexibility.

Barry believes anyone can write and draw, and that the way to do that is through memories, dreams, and images. What is more powerful than when we catch a nostalgic scent or a particular brand packaging that we haven’t seen in ages? Or a phone number or a birthday of a childhood friend that you just can’t forget?

Happy writing if you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo this month! I highly recommend checking out this book if you’re looking for resources, and to connect with other folks participating.  I am going to attempt writing a queer YA retelling of a slightly lesser-known myth (I know, I’m sorry, there’s so many), that I’ve been obsessed with from Ovid’s Metamorphoses of Iphis and Ianthe.