Month: May 2010

Stand Naked on Your Front Lawn

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.


The Eleventh Day of May

I graduated from Kent State University on May 11, 2002, eight years ago today. As a gift, my husband (who back then was my fiance) gave me a silver heart-shaped locket with “Alanna & Mark” and the date engraved on the back. That day is imprinted into my brain like the letters and numbers etched in the silver.

The photo is a picture of me with my Aunt Joni on graduation day. She’s struggled with Alzheimer’s for the past few years, and they don’t know how much longer she’ll live. I wanted to post this photo as my tribute to her. It’s because of her I went to Israel at the end of 2000, it’s because of her I took Hebrew for my foreign language instead of the usual French or Spanish, and it’s because of her, in large part, that I am who I am today. She encouraged me to write and to believe in my dreams.

I didn’t intend for this to happen, but on May 11, 2009, I created another important anniversary: I’ve kept a writing log for exactly one year. The writing log has been an enormous game-changer for me, as far as my writing life is concerned. Most of you have read this, but if you’re new to my blog, I wrote about my writing log in my essay for one of my favorite blogs, the Procrastinating Writers Blog , called Logs, Frogs, and Blogs.

The partial inspiration for this post came from another favorite blogger of mine, John Ettorre’s blog Working with Words. I can only link to it through the archives; it’s the post dated 11/23/09 called Secret Anniversaries of the Heart.

This prompts me to ask you, fellow readers and writers, three questions. Please feel free to leave your comments on any or all of the questions, along with other thoughts.

1. What are your personal anniversaries?

2. If you are a writer, what devices do you use to keep yourself writing?

3. Who in your life has helped you to believe in yourself (as a writer or otherwise)?