[Body, Mind & Spirit] The Naked Writer

A few weeks ago I found out I was mentioned in Deborah Siegel’s excellent She Writes Webinar, “Thought Leadership for Writers.”

I was held up as an example of “The Naked Writer,” one of six archetypes of “cutting-edge writers who are thought leaders.” Deborah defines a thought leader as “a trusted source with innovative ideas, who educates, influences, or inspires her audience and furthers discussions that lead her audience to action.” She added that writers who are thought leaders inspire people beyond the page. Deborah did a great job discussing this within the context of platform building.

I was honored to be included among the fine writers Deborah held up as exemplifying the various archetypes.

  • Courtney E. Martin embodied Deborah’s “World-Changing Writer,” a writer whose primary concern is to spread a message.
  • Annie Murphy Paul was “The Educator Writer,” who “loves to educate.”
  • Brooke Warner was “The Business Warrior Writer,” who uses her writing to build her business and her brand.
  • Hope Edelman, “The Topical Writer,” lives and breathes her topic, which Deborah described as a combination of self and idea.
  • Christina Baker Cline personified “The Thinking Broader Novelist Writer.” An extension of the topical writer, this archetype writer thinks of her novel topically and speaks out publicly about her novel’s themes.

Deborah wisely pointed out that many writers’ work spans several archetypes. She created and presented them as a fresh way for writers to think about how to connect with their audience, as “windows into ways of being in front of your ideas.”

The above-mentioned archetypes seemed self-explanatory.

But what exactly wasThe Naked Writer”? I wondered.

“It’s not what it sounds like,” Deborah told her webinar audience. “The naked writer is a writer who lets us into her process and her vulnerabilities, and her writerly struggles, in public. She writes about writing and the identity of being a writer. She teaches, online or off, and writes to inspire other writers. Her defining attributes include vulnerability (about the writing process) and truth—what it’s like behind the scenes to be a writer.”

All that felt true. But there was more. I liked being classified as naked, because it felt like a fundamental truth about who I am and why I’m here. Nakedness, in the sense of seeing—and accepting myself as I am—and allowing my authentic self to be seen by others, has been a recurring theme in my life. I have been blessed with the gift of transparency, though at times it has felt like a curse. In my writing, and in my life, I tell it like I see it. I strip naked. Not because I’m an exhibitionist, but because I’m a healer.

You cannot heal what you cannot see. You cannot clear what you’re unaware of. Your negative habits and behavior patterns have their way with you—until you become conscious of them. You must first see them. Once you realize what’s going on, they dissolve. It’s like shining a light on a shadow. The light of awareness makes the shadow/pattern/habit disappear. So I keep trying to illuminate my foibles, scars, aches and pains, and try to remain naked, in order to know myself better, and live my life as fully as possible.

My poetry book, Secrets of My Sex, has been called bold, honest, vulnerable—and naked! And “Messa Road,” one of the first poems I ever wrote, and the one I think of as my signature poem, is about an innocent striptease I performed as a child, in which I literally allowed myself to be naked, and suffered decades of shameful consequences as a result.

When it came time to design the cover for this book, my publisher said, “If you’re going to call it Secrets of My Sex, and since some of your poems deal with those issues, let’s consider a female nude.”

This raised a feminist red flag.

“I know it’s kinda blatant,” he said, “but so what? That’s the whole point, isn’t it?”

Then he had an “even better” idea: “Do you know someone who is a good photographer?” He asked. “Maybe it should be you on the cover.”

“Oh my God,” I said. “You’re outrageous! My naked body—on the cover of my book?”

“No, not your naked body. Just part of your back. The top. Maybe just your shoulders, something that suggests nudity.”

The thought of me appearing semi-naked on the cover of my book was nauseating. “I’m no spring chicken,” I told him.

“Oh phooey with that spring chicken nonsense,” he said. “Sexy is in the eyes. And the head. Do the pictures, and then you can think about it. But do it. Go for it.”

I asked my girlfriend, Maxx, a professional photographer, to photograph me. I’d always loved female nudes, especially in Renaissance paintings and sculpture. As a younger woman, I had secretly wanted nude portraits of myself, but could never justify what seemed like an indulgence as well as an unnecessary expense. But now I had a reason to do it. I sensed the experience might provide a unique opportunity to fully accept myself. I also knew that if I wanted to write and publish my work I’d need to release shame and give myself permission to be vulnerable.

The photo shoot challenged me, mirrored on the physical level what I was being asked to do psychologically in writing and publishing such an intimate book. I was being called to accept and celebrate myself. There was no room for negativity or embarrassment. No time to hold anything back. I was saying “yes” to myself on every level. This was both scary and exhilarating! And humbling.

I ended up not using any of those shots for my book cover, because I found another image taken when I was younger, which wasn’t a nude, but which my publisher and I both loved.

After the photo shoot Maxx mentioned that she thought I seemed totally comfortable in my own skin. It didn’t feel that way to me. I felt like I still had a long way to go on the road to self-acceptance.

My current writing project, a memoir, THE RAW YEARS: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness, is taking me to the next level. It’s about how I went from being sick, miserable, and thinking I was a failure, to living the life I’ve always dreamed of, but didn’t dare live—until I said “yes” to publishing my first book! Writing, and overcoming the tremendous inner and outer obstacles writers face, is part of this story. But it’s also about the challenges of choosing love over fear, breaking bad habits, and taking personal responsibility for my success and joy. It’s about creativity, personal empowerment, true healing, transformation, raw emotions—and raw food.

Will it inspire writers? I hope so, but I’m also hoping it’ll inspire fellow seekers of health and happiness to open their hearts, heed the stirrings of their souls, pursue dreams, listen to inner wisdom, honor themselves and their gifts, have faith in their vision, practice exquisite self-care, take responsibility for their feelings, cultivate consciousness in service to issue resolution and personal peace, and take an active role in the transformation of our planet by healing their own lives!

The best way I know how to do these things is to show up naked—repeatedly, shamelessly. If you’re a writer wanting to tell your truth, showing up in this way is a valuable practice.

How do you show up naked in your own writing?


* This post was originally published in January 2014.

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  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Yes, Rossandra, I've seen Brene's TED talk. Loved it. I think she's done another one too. And she came to my daughter's school, so I got to hear her speak in person. She's lovely. An old writing teacher of mine used to say, "Your strengths are your weaknesses and your weaknesses are your strengths.”I find myself thinking about that a lot. Your sons are lucky to have a mom like you!

  • Rossandra White

    Thank you Bella and especially for the last sentence, "our vulnerabilities are also our strengths." I need to be reminded. Have you seen Brene Brown's TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability. Profound. I forwarded it to my sons.

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Rossandra: Thanks so much for your comment.  You nailed what it's all about: at the end of the day, writing is a life-altering process.We're not going to inspire others if what we write doesn't put us through some serious paces—especially as memoirists! Best of luck with your book. Remember, naked is good. Our vulnerabilities are also our strengths!

  • Rossandra White

    Love it! And you look gorgeous. Speaking of naked . . . having turned myself inside out writing my memoir Loveyoubye, and then with it in the chute for publication--April--I freaked, all I could think of was I can't lay myself out there naked and vulnerable like that. I'm still freaking, but not so much. Will it inspire others? I don't know, all I know is that it was a life-altering process, all of it.

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Thanks for reading and leaving this sweet comment, Fran. So glad the post resonated with you! In gratitude for your generous spirit!

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Thanks for your sweet comment, Veronica. I'm so glad you resonated with this post.  I cannot take credit for your favorite part. Those are Deborah Siegel's words. She's wonderful. And so are you! Keep up what sounds like terrific work!

  • What a wonderful, inspiring essay, Bella!  Fran and I must be on the same wavelength... so much here resonates with me as well.  As a fledgling writer - my Amazon author page looks rather bare compared to so many others - I have gained a wealth of information, encouragement, support and inspiration from established and experienced writers such as yourself and so many others here at SheWrites as well as other venues.

    I love everything you say here, especially this...

    “The naked writer is a writer who lets us into her process and her vulnerabilities, and her writerly struggles, in public. She writes about writing and the identity of being a writer. She teaches, online or off, and writes to inspire other writers. Her defining attributes include vulnerability (about the writing process) and truth—what it’s like behind the scenes to be a writer.”

    That is what I strive for.  Every day! 

  • Fran Sorin

    Beautifully crafted post Bella - much that resonated within me. With gratitude - Fran 

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Thanks, Rita. I'm glad my post inpired you. Your comment inspired ME. Staying open and shining light on the shadows is a process. Each day I remind myself to say "yes." Blessings to you.

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Thank you, Karen, for your supportive comment. I apprecite it very much. Best to you and yours.

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Thank you for this very lovely post. You deserve to reap and enjoy all of the rewards of the personal work you put out there for everyone to learn from and heal....Looking forward to reading your work.

  • Martin Fass

    Whoops with typo.  That should say what a CRAB the guy is.  Ooof.

  • Martin Fass

    Fine, whatever floats your boat, as the terrible cliche has it.  When you stand up, though, that skirt or whatever it is will likely fall to the floor if you don't grab it, and then your tastefully teasing pose will change to something different.

    What an unpleasant carb, this Martin, whoever he is.

  • Rita Gardner

    Wow!  Thanks for sharing about your "naked writer" self.  I loved it.  Especially: "You cannot heal what you cannot see."  Your piece inspired me to keep opening, "shedding light on the shadows" - whether scary or not.