Ok, that might be a little bit of hyperbole. But as we close out the year, I want to share the most important writing advice I’ve ever run across. It is at the heart of the weekly blogging meme I started in 2011 called life:unmasked (link up your unmasked posts here every Wednesday!). It is the heart and soul of what and why I write. I originally published this post on BlogHer 18 months ago.
“Writers fail because they come to the page fully clothed. They adorn themselves with fanciful plots and layer themselves with complicated character development. They use flowery prose and words you have to look up in the dictionary. They do this not to impress their readers, but to keep their readers at arm’s length. They’re afraid. Afraid to bare their souls and inject themselves into their work. For that they are cowards.
“Don’t simply tell me that faith saves you, tell me how it almost failed you, too. Don’t tell me about love, speak of your passion. Don’t tell me you’re hurt, let me see your heart breaking. I don’t want to see your talent on the page, I want to see your blood. Dare to be naked before your readers. Because that is writing, and everything else is worthless crap.”
Quoted with permission from “Writing Naked” by Billy Coffey.
Before you continue reading, please please please go read his entire post. It’s worth the five minutes. I will wait.
I read that post when Billy originally published it. What he and his writing instructor said affirmed the gut instinct and fire I’ve had in my belly about writing.
I won’t lie. Writing naked is difficult. Terrifying. It feels exactly like getting naked in front of people.
But I push through my fear. Strip down. Bleed all over my notebooks and computer screen.
Because I don’t just write for me, I write for you.
Billy is right. Writing naked connects with people. And that’s what I want — to connect with you, to help you recognize that you are not alone, that we’re in this thing together.
Dozens of men and women battling alongside me to overcome depression have emailed to thank me for being willing to tell my story with all the ups and downs.
Grieving parents and family members have found a virtual shoulder to cry on in posts in which I’ve poured out my agony, grief, and anger about the life and death of my daughter, Elli. While each of our losses is unique, we share an I-will-never-be-the-same pain.
I’ve waded into theology, despite the conservative church’s resistance to women in theology, in hopes that other women will find their appetites whetted for deep thinking. I also hope that men will recognize that we have valuable insight that they need and do not have.
But just as some people are uncomfortable with real nakedness, some do not appreciate naked writing. I have learned that the backlash can be swift and severe.
One of the scariest posts I’ve ever published was the one in which I wrote a really personal post about defying stereotypes and about the spiritual demolition and reconstruction I’ve undertaken over the past few years. Dozens of people poured out their relief in comments and emails over the fact that someone was willing to put into words what they were experiencing — that I’m not completely sure about my faith.
But I also caught a lot of flak for that post (and others like it, particularly about my questions about faith). Some expressed tremendous concern and discomfort, fearing that my raw posts about doubt could feed someone else’s doubt (is doubt contagious?). Some were offended, feeling that I was putting down those who do fit the stereotypes I reject.
I hear them. I get that they think that writing naked is indecent, improper, possibly even dangerous. I agree that this kind of writing can be hard to read.
Here’s the thing though. No form of communication is perfect. Some forms fit certain people better than others, both writers and readers.
As much as I get where they are coming from, I simply cannot put some clothes on my writing. For me, writing with clothes on is fake and results in garbage. The truth is that life can dump you into a latrine, and let me tell you, when you’re swimming in excrement, Mrs. Sunshine chirping cliches and pretending all is fine doesn’t help. You need someone who has been there and survived, who knows how you can get out and get cleaned up. That is both hope and help.
I refuse to be fake with you. One of my core values as a writer and as a person is to pursue being genuine, honest, authentic. I cannot do other than write naked, come what may. If you don’t like it, that’s okay. You’re free to read or write what best fits you.
I will not compromise my integrity as a person or as a writer to please those who prefer pat answers, religious jargon, God in a nice neat box, and rainbows.
What do you think? Is there such a thing as writing too naked? Should I have used the name “write naked” instead of “life unmasked?” Will you be joining Life:Unmasked this year?