In March, I wrote a post called 12 Steps to a Writing Life. Step Four, I make a searching and fearless inventory of myself and the world around me, and write it down, as I see it, resonated with blogger EK Carmel, who commented: “Great list. That ‘searching and fearless inventory of myself and the world’ gets me to the core. When I first started writing, I just wanted to tell stories. I didn’t realize then just how much of ourselves goes into these stories. Sometimes, it seems like I’m standing out there in my underwear for all to see. I must be developing a thicker skin because it doesn’t seem as scary anymore. Thanks for the wonderful insights!”
I responded to EK: “Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, in her book Pen on Fire, in the chapter titled ‘Expose Yourself,’ quotes novelist Jo-Ann Mapson on page 98: ‘Exposing yourself means writing close to the bone. It seems to me writers are born with one less layer of skin, so that they are privy to hard truths and pain that others might not feel.’ I think it can be a difficult thing to do, and I’m happy to hear it doesn’t seem as scary anymore for you. I also think a writer needs a thick skin to handle the rejection that often comes when one does expose themselves through writing.”
About a month later, I received an e-mail from my blogger friend Jenn, who felt anxiety blogging about matters that were extremely personal to her. She worried that she should blog about a less personal topic. Then she asked me if I thought she was crazy.
It isn’t crazy to feel this way, it’s natural. All writers feel this anxiety, whether we blog or write essays or fiction. No matter what you write, you have to expose yourself. The universal is in the personal, the hallmark of great writing.
In The Writing Show forum (please stop by and check it out if you haven’t already), there’s a discussion underway about exposing yourself through writing. Mark Leslie, the interviewee of Episode 10 of Getting Published with Mark Leslie (you can find the other nine episodes in the archives, under “Reality Show Archives”), wrote the following: “I interviewed science fiction writer Julie E. Czerneda many years ago shortly after she got her first contract with DAW books (prior to that she’d been a writer/editor of Biology textbooks) and she compared having a novel published with standing naked on the front lawn.”
DeMarco-Barrett quotes Jo Ann Mapson again on page 99 of Pen on Fire: “I think that writers need to make a list of ‘forbidden topics,’ and then make themselves write about them. Such writing doesn’t have to be shared, but it will help to access strong emotions, and strong emotions lead to intense writing. Intense writing can teach a writer how to approach and explore any kind of topic. But if all that stuff is moldering away in the heart, well, it’s a kind of constipation that keeps a writer from creating believable, involving stories.”
Give it a try. Make your list of “forbidden topics,” and then write about them. Stand naked on your front lawn. Don’t constipate your writing. If it’s just too personal to explore in an essay or other type of nonfiction work, give it to a fictional character and embellish on it even more. Remember, you don’t have to share it with anyone if you choose not to. By exposing ourselves through writing, we find the universal in the personal, and create connections with those who read and find value in our words. It’s a powerful process.