Slice of Life: Creativity

slice of life

I have been reading Lynda Barry’s new book, Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, very, very slowly. My husband started laughing when he opened the book and began flipping through, and I immediately knew why.

IMG_2373 “You’re not going to be able to skim this one, are you?” he said.

I have a reputation for reading very quickly–too quickly, sometimes, to really glean much of anything from what I’m reading.

That’s not a way of reading that remotely works with Lynda Barry’s books on creativity.


Barry is a cartoonist who has also been teaching upper-division interdisciplinary courses in creativity for the past few years at UW Madison. Her books on writing (What It Is), drawing (Picture This), and teaching (Syllabus) invite us to think about when we stopped believing we could draw, paint, dance, create. She invites us to wonder about the role of the unconscious mind in creation and to immerse ourselves in activities that sometimes seem, well, kind of pointless–at least when you’re an adult.

Coloring pictures with crayons.


Drawing spirals.


Sketching a castle in 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds, 5 seconds.


I’ve been doing some of these activities, though, and finding them surprisingly interesting–and often somewhat disorienting. Barry’s exercises push me way outside my comfort zone.  I’m not sure what, if anything, they add up to–but I think that’s the point. Perhaps the whole reason we stop being creative is that we start thinking of activities like these as pointless. We forget how to play. We forget how to do anything that doesn’t serve a purpose, that doesn’t lead to some kind of product. We tell ourselves we can’t do certain things–like draw–and so we stop.

That’s not the case for all of us, of course, but it’s certainly the case for me.

I had originally been planning to participate in NaNoWriMo next month. It’s a creativity challenge, but it’s very product-oriented. Write 50K words in 30 days. They don’t have to be good or interesting words. And you don’t have to have fun writing them. In fact, you probably won’t. Sure, there will be moments, maybe even days, of inspiration and artistry. But NaNoWriMo can be a slog. You will write even when you don’t want to. There is a satisfying discipline to that and a real sense of achievement when you reach the end of the month and see your word count. 

I already know I can be successful completing NaNoWriMo: I’ve done it for the past seven Novembers. Reading Lynda Barry’s book makes me want to try something altogether different and more challenging for me–to think about the role of creativity in my life (or lack of it) and invite more of it in.

What would I do every day if I were a creative person? Can I become more creative? Is it possible to learn how to play again? How can a highly product-oriented person like me learn to play and create without a specific product in mind?

One of the fun things about doing NaNoWriMo is getting to say NaNoWriMo, so I’ve decided to dub my November experiment DaCreaChaMo.

Daily Creativity Challenge Month.

I have no idea what I’m going to be doing every day of the month, but that’s the point: to clear some space, to invite things to happen (or not), to be open, to dabble, to make a mess, to be silly, to not know.

To create.





17 responses to “Slice of Life: Creativity”

  1. taylorlapp Avatar

    That sounds like a great book for me to look into. I have never had much for creativity.. so I thought! I do believe that adults CAN relearn to play, and what a great stress reliever it would be!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I have read most of Barry’s first book about creativity, What It Is. Some of it is over my head, but there are a lot of really interesting writing exercises. I do occasionally color (with colored pencils!) but it always feels like a waste of time. I mean, why color when I could be reading?! I love your point about play as a stress reliever!

  2. Juliana Ellington Avatar

    DaCreaChaMo!!! What a great way for you to do something different: something that will get you out of your comfort zone, something that will be FUN!!! I can’t wait to read about your adventure in your blog!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Mom! I thought you would appreciate DaCreaChaMo. Plus I can say it a whole bunch when we’re on the phone!

  3. Maureen Avatar

    WOW! I must find these books. They sound fabulous – and an extraordinary challenge. I like it so much – create!!!! I, too, hope you will continue to share about this in your blog posts.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Barry’s work is so interesting. Very deep stuff! I do recommend starting with What It Is and Picture This. I think I’m going to try to work through both during November.

  4. Tara Smith Avatar

    Wow…this sounds like an amazing book. I, too, am looking forward to your new adventures!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s certainly amazing to look at. There is so much to think about–it’s one of those books I’d need to read several times to come close to fully absorbing.

  5. Linda Baie Avatar

    I’ve signed up for PiBoIdMo this Nov., hoping to try some new ideas for poetry, book ideas! I’ve returned to more sketching which I love to do. Best wishes to you Elisabeth in your own creative days. The book you shared look very fun. Just keeping a sketchbook full of doodles, etc. could be inspiration for me. Fun hearing you recent thinking!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ve signed up for PiBoIdMo too, Linda. My husband and I are both doing it–and he started early, so I felt like I had to start early too! My older son is having a wonderful time helping us with ideas, so it’s becoming a family project. I don’t draw–at all–so doodling and sketching are WAY outside my comfort zone!

    2. The Logonauts (@thelogonauts) Avatar

      Yes! I knew there had to be a picture book or young fiction type of challenge! Now you’ve both got my attention. Will be checking out PiBoldMo immediately.

      Elisabeth, do you ever do any photography? I did a few years of daily photography, and it was a huge blessing for my creativity.

  6. Ramona Avatar

    Doodling and sketching are outside my comfort zone too! My favorite words in your post – to dabble, to make a mess! Have fun. I can’t wait to see what happens when you play and create without an end product in mind.

  7. Beth Avatar

    Thanks for the title! I am going to pick it up! I love the challenge that you are going give yourself. I have completed SOL challenge, but the NaNoWriMo seems so much harder with a specific word count. Good luck and thanks for the inspiration.

  8. Holly Mueller Avatar

    I’ve never read anything by Lynda Barry, but now I want to! This book looks fascinating. I think it’s so important to take on creative challenges. Good luck!!

  9. […] But for November, I did want to get out of my comfort zone and be more creative. […]

  10. […] slice of life about trying to invite more creativity into my […]

  11. […] first step on the path to doing has always been to read a book (or twelve) to prepare. My November creativity challenge is pretty simple: do something creative each day. Knowing that I’ll feel most comfortable and […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: