The Naked Writer

The first big dream I ever had for myself (other than the desire to sprout fairy wings and live in a tree house lit by lanterns) was to become a great writer. Specifically, a great storyteller – writing novels and memoirs that readers wouldn’t be able to put down.

Even though I wrote countless novels and stories from the moment I began gestating this dream, at the age of 10, somehow, I didn’t allow myself to break into the scene until I had completed a non-fiction book on healing skin problems. I so often look back on that moment and wonder: How on earth is it possible that that was my first book when I already had so many fiction manuscripts sitting quietly, waiting patiently on my hard drive?

I have to admit, I’ve always had trouble with the whole concept of the energetic cycle of a writer. Writers need readers. Our work needs to be read in order to keep the cycle of writing going.

I didn’t really like that last part. For the first ten years of my writing practice, I almost never wrote to be read. In fact, I would have been mortified to let someone read my work. Not because I was afraid it was written poorly, or because I worried the stories were silly, but because I wrote from my heart and I was afraid readers would be able to see straight into my soul. The thought of that kind of exposure was – and still is – terrifying.

By the time I hit my twenties, I knew I had a serious passion within me. And I don’t mean a passion for writing. I mean, quite simply, passion. I rarely had boyfriends and was mostly single, but my creative life was fueled by this burning passionate 2nd chakra energy within me. It was as if the page was my dream lover and every word I wrote was a forbidden, torrid encounter. It was the same way I felt when I read Toni Morrison, Pablo Neruda, E. Annie Proulx, Alice Hoffman or e.e. cummings. I felt that passion in their writing and I knew it was within me, as well.

This energy of passion brought me dozens of stories and characters to work with. The more I let myself explore and write, the more I wanted to share that passion with others. Yet still, I couldn't bear to expose that part of myself, even after I finished what I considered my greatest writing accomplishment, thus far: The Poison Box. That novel sat for many, many years in the darkness, waiting and wondering what I would do with it.

When I wrote Glowing, I knew I had to include the story of my own skin problems – a deeply personal story. Because the book was my way of reaching out to others who were similarly struggling, I felt like I had the courage to forge ahead.

As the months went on, I was surprised by the feedback. Almost everyone who commented about it told me their favorite part was the short section about my own struggles – they said it read like a novel and they couldn’t put it down. Of course, hearing that is every writer’s dream, but it also made me laugh that my struggle with pimples was so riveting.

Emboldened, I decided to take the leap and put The Poison Box out into the world. It is both not at all personal, and totally and completely personal. It’s all about me and nothing about me. It’s very hard to describe the relationship between a novel and its writer, especially one that took 17 years and 4 different drafts to complete. Regardless of how much was built upon someone's personal experience, it is, without a doubt, a window into the writer’s soul.

Between the two books, Glowing has been the fan favorite. Possibly because that’s how people came to know me on the internet, as the “natural skincare girl,” before I “came out” as a writer? Possibly because it’s such a personal book? Possibly because it’s simply easier to read than my complicated, densely-woven novel?

This little mystery fascinates me because I’ve always loved writers' “real” stories more than the fictional ones. If you gave me the choice between memoir and novel, I’d choose memoir 90% of the time. I love reading about other people's struggles and successes. I love seeing the beautiful imperfections of my fellow human beings.

As time has gone on, and I have burned myself out trying to write helpful tips about natural skincare (which got boring fast), I find my inner passion speaking to me again, asking me to reveal more. It keeps telling me that there’s more to me than novels. That my own stories are worth sharing. That my own stories are what long to be released into the world.

Currently, I am finding so much exquisite beauty, almost unbearable beauty, in the grieving process of a relationship that recently ended. I often visit my journals and see such a remarkable narrative there, written one day at a time, without me even realizing what a great story it was. I want to weave the strands together and share it with the world.

And yet…there’s that terror of the nakedness all artists expose when they share their work with the world. Should I? Can I?

This is the job of the writer, as far as I can see – to take these wild, beautiful, painful scraps and shreds of life and put them to words, trying as hard as we can to make some sense out of it all in the narratives we construct. And where do we get the material? From our own lives, whether we write about ourselves or not.

I think of Liz Gilbert and how fearlessly she puts herself out there. Is there anything she wouldn’t write about? I doubt it. I feel such passion in her work. That’s the real deal.

Now am I brave enough to follow?