Appearing Naked on the Page


Appearing Naked on the Page

Naked on the page. Gives you shivers just thinking about it, doesn’t it? Even if you’re not quite sure what it means. Unfortunately, the explanation is not probably going to make you more comfortable.

What is being naked on the page?

I think my best writing has come when I am completely honest. No prettying up, no generous interpretations, no kind evasion. Being from a dysfunctional family, I write about the pain and cruelty, not about my mother’s cocktail parties.

Feels creepy, doesn’t it? I understand that. But it is, I believe, an important part of the humanity of the writer.

Why do I need to do it?

Stunning plot or appealing characters are important to your writing, but I believe that when readers ache for, identify with, and rejoice with a character, it is often because the writer has written from a place where she has allowed her rawest feelings to guide her writing.

Have you ever watched a stranger on TV cry? Because of the death of a loved one or other terrible experience. They show a vulnerability and openness which draws us in. Do we identify more with their plight? Do we like them more?

Yes and yes.

But it is not the tears themselves, I think, which move us but because we see part of their authentic, hurting self.

You also want to create that connection with a stranger (i.e. your protagonist) in your novel. And the only way I know how is to yourself be vulnerable and open when you write.

How do I do it?

Well, there’s no formula.

The best I can do is a tip which the author, W.O. Mitchell, gave and my first writing teacher, Barbara Turner-Vesselago, passed on to me. Go Fearward. That is, whenever you touch upon something from which you automatically shy away from, instead turn towards it. When your boyfriend said he was seeing somebody else; when you accepted your father was dying; when you betrayed your best friend.

Reach deep down and allow yourself to feel again the searing and write from that sear, not from the scar that has hidden it from view.

The only other thing I can give you is what I thought after following my writing teacher’s suggestion to write about my dysfunctional family.

I climbed the hill, the reluctance as strong as my panting. I wasn’t sure there was enough for a novel mostly because all I had was a feeling of a vast and terrifying darkness. Unrelieved abyss from which, on entry, one might never return. The dread of willingly consigning myself to years back in the hell. A hell from which, I thought, I had escaped.

But so strong was my wish to write, I ventured in. And found, to my growing delight, that it was not entirely a place of shadow and terror. That is was also of light and laughter. That in the wish to escape the night, I had forgotten the day. And also, in a bastardization of Shakespeare, that the remembering fed upon itself and I remembered more and more. So, in the long run, it was a gift. It gave me back who I was. Not all darkness, not all light. But me.

It is an act of bravery but one which I think writers must attempt if they wish to truly move their readers.