Monday, January 26, 2015

Write Naked

I was lucky enough to have Denis Johnson as a teacher at the Iowa Writers' Workshop years ago. He said many wise and interesting things; the one I recall most often is, "Write naked."

He meant emotionally naked, of course. I could go on about what that might mean, but I think the phrase itself says enough. Plant it in the back of your mind. Sleep on it. Think about it next time you're writing, especially if you find yourself losing direction, or wondering why or how to care about the characters or their story. What might it mean to write naked? How might you try to do it?

Here's Johnson's story "Emergency," from the collection Jesus' Son, which was turned into this movie.

Can you see the nakedness in this story? I think it's in the way the narrator lets us have an honest look into a time in his life when he's very lost; not just accidentally lost but actively hiding from life, failing in his responsibilities, and worst of all, failing in ways that can and do cause harm to others. Do you agree?

What do you think the last section of the story means, beginning with the phrase in bold, "Some hours before that?" What about the very last line?

Maurice Denis, Spots of Sunlight on the Terrace, 1890

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