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Strip Down to Your Essential Writing Soul

By Shirley Jump

You can keep your clothes on — but free yourself to write.

Take it off. Take it all off. No, not your clothes (although if you want to compose in the nude, that’s your prerogative). Strip away those hindrances to writing, from the expectations of others to the quest for your true writing voice. Once you learn to strip away all the rules and barriers, you will write more freely and your words will have more impact.

That’s not to say you can pull a Faulkner and eliminate punctuation or start reinventing the rules of grammar. The basics of good composition apply no matter what you are creating. To me, writing naked means being a writer who creates out of a sense of joy, not in an attempt to follow marketing trends or to appease the judgment of friends and family members. It’s writing in its purest form.

Let’s start with the expectations of others. If you are writing with the purpose of getting published, then you’ve probably looked at the books and articles that are out there, and decided you have to make your work fit those models. It’s like being in junior high. The “in” crowd wore the hippest clothes and those who wanted to be part of the clique did the same. But what happens is individuality gets swallowed up in the quest for sameness. Readers don’t want uniformity. They choose one author over another because she has unique storytelling abilities.

The people who have made a dent in the publishing world have made their individual writing styles an asset. Stephen King, John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, Kathleen Woodiwiss. No one was doing what they did at the time they launched their careers. They encountered many closed doors but once they made it to the rank of published, they found a bevy of readers hungry for uniqueness.

Think about your own expectations, too. You might envision your writing career following a certain path. Maybe you expected to be published in a year or two or ten and it hasn’t happened. Maybe you expected to have a literary voice and all that’s coming out is comedy. Let go of those expectations, too. As soon as you put a leash on your writing, you are restricting yourself. While it’s wonderful to be able to compose lyrical passages, or comic ones, or straight journalistic prose, don’t expect yourself to write in a style other than the one in which you write. The truth is that everyone’s writing style and writing paths are different. Only by giving your creative side free rein can you discover your own path.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that no one can tell your stories quite the same way you can. That’s a gift — a single element that sets you apart from any other writer. When you write, you do so with the express purpose of communicating your own writer’s soul. There is nothing more naked than that.

EXERCISE: Take one hour this week and write entirely for you. Don’t think about where the piece might sell or what someone might think about it. Set out to write strictly for yourself. Create anything. A story. A poem. A journal entry. Don’t worry about what it is, or what you’ll do with it. Rediscover the joy of creation for creation’s sake.

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