Writing Naked

“Writing Naked” is the title of a class I am signed up for later this month. What does one wear to such a gathering? Two evenings in a hotel meeting room. Discussions with other writers about overcoming inhibitions, writing bodily truths, not censoring our writing. As with many things in my life, I stumbled across this class by chance. I’d registered for a class on how to turn MS Word docs into published-format books, but that was last spring when my mother was in and out of the hospital, so I missed it. The college gave me a voucher, and this is the class that best fits the value of the voucher and my schedule. Well, and yes, I was intrigued. After I signed up, I began doing some research.

Sarah Martinez, the instructor, is author of Sex and Death in the American Novel, which I read, and admired for its bravery on several fronts. Upfront, I would warn fellow fussy readers that the editing is not great, and give this helpful hint- in the first chapter, the characters riding in the car together? They’re going to Montana. On the other hand, in the up-close complex three-way sex scenes, the geography of the bodies seems to map out just fine. Above and beyond the sex scenes, Martinez tells a complex family story, and parts of it went over my head. Reading her blog later, I got that death and grief were meant to be much bigger elements in the book than I understood while reading. Since grief and death are constant topics of mine, you’d think I would have picked up on that.

My main conclusion about this book, besides admiring its breadth and bravery, is a sad reflection on the publishing world’s insistence that novels be short; “under 100K words!” is the battle cry. This story couldn’t be told properly in the size that it was written. And I, personally, am no fan of skinny books.

Martinez, in her first book, is tackling big stuff – what is literature, what lifts erotica above plain old smut, porn? Old old questions. What is obscenity? If you write about sex, and mention Henry Miller, does that make it literature? Martinez refers to her favorite liberated authors repeatedly, so if nothing else, there’s a new reading list. Maybe mentioning other books and writers makes writing “literature.” Since reading this book, and preparing for the class, I’ve stumbled onto reading Anais Nin and her naked-to-the-soul diaries. Brain on fire. I’ll blog about that later, when I get done reading it.

Writing Naked. Erotica. Sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. Who knows? For me there’s a deeper question, not just how to write my honest racy imaginings and experiences well, but how to get the confidence to share them, to publish them. Maybe they should just stay in the closet? Can a Quaker feminist write truthfully about sex and be received with anything better than quiet grudging forgiveness? I’m hoping so, since I am naked, by nature.

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