How to write naked

Footprints on a beachI’ve never been to a clothing-optional beach, but I have seen b-roll that accompanies news stories about these peculiar hot-spots. It’s not sexy, is it? All that pasty skin, sagging flesh, and the exclamations of “Good lord, is that my grandmother?”

I have heard that once you get over the visual attack of all that nudity and you boldly bare your bits to the sun, being naked in front of other people can be liberating. Out in clothed society, people are packages of clothes, shoes, watches and other status symbols that can mask their true natures. Style disguises substance. But when you’re all together in the all-together, you relate to people as human beings, flaws and all. What you see is what you get.

I’ve been thinking about what this could mean when it comes to writing, and I’m giving naked writing a try. Writing naked, for me, means ignoring everything except telling a good story. Substance comes first—style comes later.

Never mind what your critique group might think about your writing. Forget about the synopsis, the query letter, and your platform. Don’t think too hard about the agents you’ll be querying, the publishers they’ll be pitching to, or the booksellers who will be trotting out your wares. Focus on the story first. The style of it all will come later.

Of course, don’t neglect basic rules of writing, like correct spelling, proper punctuation and good grammar. Think of it as putting your best naked self forward. Good grammar is like good grooming—the maintenance you need to take care of before you let anyone see you in your birthday suit.

But don’t be shy. Writing naked is all about exposing yourself and your characters. When you’re writing naked, it’s you, the story, and the reader. This is where you’re getting up close and personal and telling your truth. Vulnerability, honesty, and bravery: these are the hallmarks of naked writing. You’re using the most authentic voice you can. It’s all you, baby—no pretension, no hype, no high-concept approach to fit the market.

What you might consider flaws (the imperfections of your characters, wonky plot lines) could be the substance that makes your story a true, human one.

So, take it all off. The literary world is your nudist beach.



Filed under Inspiration, Motivation

14 responses to “How to write naked

  1. I love this analogy, especially since I spent much of my pregnancy naked (it was hot in Thailand). Even more than the analogy, though, I love the idea as it pertains to writing. I have a loud editor in my voice (which is actually a different voice than the you-can’t-write voice). Anyway, my editor likes me to stop often. I’m going to have to try writing naked…


    PS. Can’t wait to see what search engine traffic is directed to this post…

    • Maria McDonald

      Thanks Leanne! I should say that I don’t actually write naked–I have a leather chair. Ick.

      • Juan C.

        What? You don’t actually write naked? Shame. Leather chair or not, you should give it a try. It’s quite….liberating. Sometimes being uncomfortable in our own skin, lit and fig speaking, is exactly what our characters need. Makes for some great storytelling…

      • Maria McDonald

        Thanks for the comment, Juan. But as liberating as it may be, I’ll still avoid the leather chair when I’m deshabille.

  2. Interesting way of describing a fundamental lesson which I think some young writers tend to ignore. I have found that substance before style is a good rule in general, be it in life or writing. If you have substance, style will follow as a natural result, and if it doesn’t, then its time to rewrite.

    There is a reason that stylish books disappear after a few years and yet books with substance remain for centuries. Just look at Dante’s Divine Comedy. It is undeniable that this book has a fairly concrete sense of style, but Dante’s goal was not style, it was a message, and the style followed naturally.

    I can’t believe I’m writing this, but in the literary world of swim suits and nude beaches, consider me a nudist!


    • Maria McDonald

      Thanks for the great comment! I was thinking of J.D. Salinger when I wrote this.
      And I think all writers can be considered nudists in some way.

      • I can see that. I just read Franny and Zooey, and I loved it. When I was younger, I really identified with Holden from Catcher in the Rye, but now that I’m a bit older I’m definitely identifying more with his other books. In any case, I think Salinger might be proud to be considered a nude writer.

  3. Nudist writers will definitely have to get their own beach. I imagine none get a lot of sun.

  4. What a fantastic post, Maria! You’ve reminded me of the importance of letting go while writing. And also that I need a bikini wax. #TMI?

    p.s. Yes, I think we could get some hits on this one.

  5. Awesome post, Maria! This, especially: “Vulnerability, honesty, and bravery: these are the hallmarks of naked writing. … no pretension, no hype, no high-concept approach to fit the market.” Excellent reminder as I strip down for tonight’s writing time. 😉

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