When we talk about writing naked, we’re not discussing another sequel to 50 Shades of Grey.
Or erotic literature.
Or if you’re old enough, that magazine section in the corner store where only adults were allowed to browse.
Writing naked is all about risk.
Risk is a broad term when applied to writing and writers, and takes on many forms. But writing naked involves going to the hard places, especially when it relates to the mystery and thriller categories. The best kind of writing in those genres – the kind that is moving and compelling, and stays with us long after we’ve finished reading that last page and closed the book – is the kind that lets it all hang out and pushes past our comfort zones. It’s writing that takes creative risks, changes the narrative structure, voice, or uses characters to tap into emotions and make hard-hitting social commentary. Honesty. Bleeding on each page and baring emotions without compromising integrity.
All writers carry a fear of failure. Writing is one of those professions filled with the competing voices of self-doubt and critics who believe they can write just as well if not better than you. The same critics who expect to see blood, sweat, and angst seeping from every page. Perhaps the worst thing a mystery or thriller reader can say about something you’ve written is that it’s “too predictable”, or that they’ve “seen this before.” That’s the kind of criticism that cuts with a serrated edge. Risk is the thing that can keep writing fresh and unpredictable, but more importantly, allow you to write with impact. Taking risks is how writers become better. Taking on risk starts the moment you sit down to write. You can’t start off trying to write a book that will appeal to everyone. Agreeableness is boring. If you water down your writing to suit everyone’s tastes, you’ll never find the power of your own voice.
I didn’t write Still Black Remains for any particular audience or demographic, which might explain why it was initially difficult to find the right publisher – there might have been more options if I had chosen a genre like YA or NA with a more specific group of readers. I wrote Still Black Remains because it was a story I wanted - needed - to tell, even if no one wanted to read it. It started out as a simple crime story but once I pushed past my own comfort zone it evolved into something more. The central theme in the book is about the struggle of a different generation trying to realize the American Dream against all odds, and through any means possible. The characters have learned that hard work by itself will never help them achieve what they want - they have to work outside the system to get what they want. The inner city landscape where they live is filled with desperation, anger, and a sense of futility and in many cases violence is both the solution to problems and the result of problems. Actions – no matter what’s involved or who gets hurt – are justified as being “part of the game.”
If I tried shaping the book towards a particular audience or played it safe, I might have been tempted to change the voice, minimize some of the violence, or sanitize the language. It is a gritty story. Life in the New Jersey neighborhood where Still Black Remains takes place is equally gritty, violent, and harsh. There was no way to soften the writing without losing the legitimacy of the story.
It was a risky path to take because readers might be offended, but it was absolutely necessary to tap into the characters’ emotions and maintain the authenticity of the story.
There was no other way to write it.
As a writer you need to strip away the fears and worries that might hold back your story. You need to go out on a limb to write with impact. You need to write naked. Write without fear. If you don’t push your limits your writing won’t take off, and more importantly, it won’t matter to readers.