“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
~Madeleine L’Engle

Write Naked

Do you write from personal experience? Or you rather get lost in imaginary worlds and alternate realities, full of superheroes and alien creatures?

Our imaginations are endless and should be exploited creatively as much as possible. And yet, the number one writing advice says: ‘Write what you know’. Does this suggest that only war veterans can write about wars, or that Jules Verne really went around the world in 80 days?

Honestly, I used to hate this epic instruction. It somehow suggested that everything anyone writes is utterly personal and resembles the writer’s soul. Which simply isn’t true.

raw, nakedness, exposure

Photo by robin robokow

Obviously, you don’t want to be identified with the evil protagonist of your story. On top of that, you probably dislike having your readers assume they know you, just because they believe they’ve peeped inside your head and body.

Bring Out The Personal

However, the more I write and share what I’ve written, the more feedback I get that brings me to the conclusion that personal is always the best.

So, no matter if you’ve developed a great fictional concept or done your research, it will never measure up to writing that comes from the heart. The bleeding wins, Hemingway would say.

Therefore, why not try and expose yourself by sharing what you’ve deeply experienced. Write about what makes you tremble and then describe the trembling. Write about how you see the world, what you believe in. Write about hurt and pain, love and sadness.

Write about your dreams and why you have them. Write about the past and the present. Write about how you imagine the future. Write about your hopes and longings. Write about long, sleepless nights, and short, unlived days.

The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked…that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

Neil Gaiman

Make The Leap

Write naked. The raw can be a million times more powerful than the best polish. Do you know why? Because truth shines.  It can’t be beaten by invention. Just forget any inhibitions, and share the truth. Your truth. It’s quite scary, and absolutely worth it.

Marcel Proust started writing his legendary series In Search of Lost Time only after his parents died. Julian Barnes says he had to imagine his parents dead when he started pursuing writing.

Just don’t be afraid. Because if you can’t even write about your own truth, how can you expect to truthfully write about another’s?


For fifteen minutes, write about a very intimate, personal experience that you’ve never shared before. It doesn’t need to be spectacular; only to read from the heart. If you want, share it in the comments. Otherwise, it’s yours to keep.

As usual, be supportive of others’ by giving them your valuable feedback.

About Sophie Novak

Sophie Novak is an ultimate daydreamer and curious soul, who can be found either translating or reading at any time of day. She originally comes from the sunny heart of the Balkans, Macedonia, and currently lives in the UK. You can follow her blog and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • Winnie

    At first it was a huge relief.
    No more the spectre of looming assignments and exams hanging dark over his head. Jules had cut the cord and could start living his own life. Earning his own money. As a maturing teenager for the past few years he’d felt the stirring of independence, frequently questioning authority.
    He fondled the travelling alarm clock he bought with his first pay check. It was like a first-born, one of more to come. And for which he wouldn’t be beholden to anyone.
    “No, it’s final,” he told the Registrar’s office when they phoned after tracing him to the office where he worked at his first job. “I’m not coming back. Don’t worry, I’ll repay the bursaries and study loans.” As he replaced the handset he was surprised how easy it had been to drop out of college, shaking off the last restraining hand.
    But hardly had he breathed a huge sigh of relief, then reality started hitting home.
    First his best friend stopped calling. His last words were “Why don’t you work as a cadet on the mines? They pay better.”
    After that the loneliness of adulthood descended. One night, looking around, at. the dressing table with the cracked mirror, the curtains stiff with dirt, he realised he’d dug himself into a hole. Through the open window above the door the smell of stale cooking oil filtered in like an unwelcome caller.
    Six months after he’d ventured out on his own nobody cared what happened to him. After work he listened to his little radio, read books from the public library, and tried relaxing with a bottle of beer. He soon stopped. Somehow it didn’t taste the same.
    One weekend he felt the walls closing in. The sounds of people carrying on with their lives drifted in through the open window. An island in a huge ocean? He felt more like a speck drifting helpless on the seas, tossed around by the vagaries of fortune.
    He started popping into the nearby church, but that only reduced him to tears. Self-pity must be the least constructive emotion. Everyone else in the silent pews was too busy worshipping to notice the lost soul among them.
    Walking home one evening past the convent alongside the church building Jules heard the delicate notes of a Chopin piano piece drifting in the night air. The lilting melody, so pure and honest, crept into his heart, comforting and reassuring.
    That composer must have had a direct line to heaven.
    In the days following he found his mind clearing. No more worrying about his parents, and longing for home, like an obedient son. He’d clung to them only for their nearness, like a baby monkey clings to his mother just to feel her heartbeat.
    His mood lifted in the days following.
    At no time did it enter his mind to question why he felt so calm, and decisive, why the dark cloud hanging over him had disappeared, letting in the sun. And, most important, that his desperate prayers may have been borne to heaven on the strains of that music.
    “Please come. I’d love to see you again.” That letter opened the door.
    Within a few months he moved to a city thousands of miles away, So far away it could have been in another country.
    Unlike his parents, his sister was forgiving. Dropping out should never have been the end of the world. But for her, it almost had been for him.

    • ruth

      Thanks for sharing such a heart-rending story. Maybe it’s when we feel most alone that we grow the most. I loved that music had such a positive for you. “Chopin drifting in the night air….so pure and honest, comforting and reassuring.”

      • Winnie

        Thanks for the comments. I always write with classical music in the background. It helps me settle into whatever I’m writing.
        The incident happened over fifty years ago. It was only when I started writing about it that I connected the dots and made sense of those six months and the events that followed.

    • Everyone else in the silent pews was too busy worshipping to notice the lost soul among them.
      Loved that line. Ain’t it the truth though, how many of us can actually see into another’s heart, or sense a stranger’s despair? Well written.

    • Sophie Novak

      Really well written Winnie. Thanks for sharing. By the way, I love classical music. 🙂

  • Great post, Sophie. As a dark fantasy author, I was never a fan of “write what you know,” until I realized that maxim probably applies more to the inner journeys of your characters rather than to their external journeys. For example, an author might write somewhat convincingly about a fabled shadowhunter arriving in a strange city in search of a bloodsucking monster, but the real “truth” might come from portraying the shadowhunter’s inability to face his own deformities (physical and psychological) and how that is preventing him from living the life he desires. In other words, people might not be able to connect with a fantastic storyline, but anyone who’s had to deal with inner demons could emphasize with this kind of internal struggle, regardless of genre. And when the writer has experience with this inner struggle as well, he/she can write with a ring of truth that probably can’t be faked and that empathizing readers with similar experiences will certainly detect.

    • That was my feeling too as I read the post. We may not know the setting personally, but we should be able to feel the emotions honestly in order to come across with them truthfully. They can be amplified, but the core familiarity must be there…

    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks! That was my point exactly: the setting is irrelevant, but the emotions have to be real and speaking from experience definitely tells.

  • ruth

    We checked into the hospital for a routine heart catheterization. In a private room where monitors recorded my husband’s heart rhythms, we continued our quiet conversation until he looked at me with panic and began breathing hard. He said he felt extreme pressure in his chest. Two nurses stared at the monitor and began whispering to each other, pointing to the screen. The cardiologist checked in and recognizing a new emergency hurried to prepare his team.
    Ron looked at me with pleading eyes and simply said, “Take care of my children.”
    In a flash his gurney was swept from the small room as well as every piece of monitoring equipment. I stood in an empty room, not even a chair left behind, at a loss to understand what had happened. There was absolute silence. Where machines had chirped and staff conversations had produced a stead hum, there was nothing. What had happened? How long would it take to find out? Should I call a relative to stay with me? Most important: would I ever see my husband alive again? I’d never felt so totally alone. My own breathing became labored and I couldn’t hold back the tears. My hands shook with anxiety. I prayed.
    After almost an hour of pacing, the cardiologist appeared smiling. That was good.
    “You were lucky you were here,” he said. “One of the heart arteries was 100% blocked but we were able to clear it and he should be fine.”
    “Is it OK if I give you a hug?” was all I could say. The gray-haired surgeon nodded.
    “I always accept hugs,” he said.
    I’ve never forgotten how quickly life can move from normal to crisis, how quickly the priorities of life are made clear. Life is precious. Treasure it.

    • Well done, you brought tears to my eyes with this line: Ron looked at me with pleading eyes and simply said, “Take care of my children.”

      Simple and touching. I liked the ending too.

    • Sophie Novak

      Quite moving, Ruth. I was happy for the happy end.

  • Great post, Sophie. I think that the outer trappings are less important: as long as we write faithfully about raw human emotions, that should come though. That is not to say that we shouldn’t be faithful to the outer realities, but rather that your book will not be remembered because you described your character’s sheep farm faithfully (my latest research for my WIP), but rather because you brought your character across faithfully.

    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks Mirel! That’s right, we’re emotional beings, so emotions are always central and most important. Good luck with your project.

  • This is interesting. I think you’re right that people are best when they allow themselves to be vulnerable, but I’m not sure I agree that writing about what’s personal is always best. In writing groups, I’ve found over and over again writers struggling with the characters that are most like themselves or someone they know. Because, as Mark Twain or Tom Clancy (or both) said–fiction has to make sense. And real life doesn’t always, so it can be difficult to make what actually happened (even if it was intense reaction or emotion) fit into the story. I was actually thinking about writing a post on this very topic–stay tuned! 🙂

    • Sophie Novak

      I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on the subject. 🙂 As for life not making sense, I somehow feel it’s ours to show exactly that: when it does and when it doesn’t. For me, fiction should mirror life with all its complications, beauties, and disappointments – written beautifully.

  • chrissy94

    This piece is long, but it applies to this post, so I thought I would share it. I hope it’s okay! I have been working hard to learn how to write fiction for the past few years, but recently I wrote this non-fiction piece about my son and I felt that it really did sound more natural than anything I could’ve drew from my imagination.

    By the way, this is my first post, so I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback!

    The Sweet Music of Childhood

    The yellow, blue and red X-shaped structure jutted into the sky before us.

    “Mommy, you do it,”said Colton, my two-year-old son.

    I raised my head and scanned the area. Around the pavilion, hordes of children were running back-and forth, the sound of stomping feet slamming the pavement was music – a tune my son, and all children – understood. The volume of the tune increased as the shrieks of laughter lifted and then settled into the humid air above us like tangible fireflies caught in a glass jar. Then a flash. And, in an instant, we were the fireflies, surrounded by our jar, a dome. We became one with the fun that day. A dome of fun for the children, full of
    soaking and splashing devices – an activity center called the Splash pad.

    I gave my son a small smile. I seemed to be the only adult in attendance. I bit my lip. And the only adult with a child who wanted his mother there.

    “Don’t you want to run through it yourself like a big boy?” I asked.

    Colton’s light brown wavy hair shined like a halo in the glittering sun as he shook his head. “Mommy, you do it, “Colton repeated.

    I chuckled. Colton was listening to this tune of smiles and fun – fun that apparently seeped into the concrete square beneath us. He pointed to the structure. He narrowed his dark eyes (so dark his pupils disappeared in the iris shell. It’s his most stunning feature according to many people who see him for the first time. “He has George Clooney eyes,” a woman once told me). A strong dose of intensity glazed over those eyes. When this two-year-old toddler wanted something, he worked hard to get it. Colton stood his ground, his bare feet glued to a tune he didn’t want to sing unless his mother participated in the activity with him. He wasn’t going to back down. I took a breath. Luckily, this was something I could give to him without the threat of a “terrible two” tantrum explosion. I was going to get wet. A light mist sprayed my face with a passing


    Probably soaked.

    I looked down at my purple t-shirt and black workout shorts. I wasn’t planning on participating in this activity with him, but I should’ve known better. I don’t know if it’s his age or just part of his personality, but lately, he’d wanted to do
    everything with me. I’d exercised earlier, so I really didn’t care if I got wet, but still . . . I hesitated.

    Was it just me or do all adults experience this? Do we all hesitate in a moment of pure fun? Or rather, do we all work hard to ignore this tune? The musical tune of children. Filling our head instead with a different type of music? Right then, I could’ve listed a handful of tunes scouring my mind like a brittle brush that day. Every day it seemed, I breathed in the worried notes of financial difficulties. The harsh notes prodding me with a hot poker, dancing to the hard, quick tunes of the Jaws theme. Living on one income while I remained a
    stay-at-home mom was not an easy task – one that I’m lucky and honored to
    perform – but still not easy.

    “Whoa, be careful,” I said as an older boy about eight or nine whipped by Colton in a frenzied urgency to soak the fun back into his drenched day. Maybe, I thought, this twinkling tune existed solely for the benefit of children and no one else. I felt like a passenger in a ride, except I didn’t meet the size requirement. Do we, the adults, hear this music, this tune of childhood at all? My heart skittered and I wondered when I stopped listening to that music.

    I remember one afternoon, a warm summer day quite like this one. I was probably 12-years-old at the time. I would say I was teetering on the precarious
    ledge, a steep crossroad, between childhood and adulthood. I was young enough to hear those tunes, but they were fading fast. My friend and I
    were outside looking for something to do when some dark clouds produced a powerful rainstorm. As the water poured down, one of us, I’m not sure who, decided that we should put on our bathing suits and stand outside and enjoy this rain. I remember feeling a little silly standing there in my front yard as the rain pelted us. Childhood indeed had been fading fast, but I also remember, smiling and laughing so hard my stomach hurt. It was a piece of a faded memory that still managed to stick with me all these years. I don’t ever remember laughing that hard, or enjoying the outdoors the same way again.

    Now Colton smiled wide, one that lit up his whole face and brightened his eyes, showcasing a set of lashes so long, shadows spilled across his flushed cheeks as the sun peeked in and out of the passing clouds. The musical tune of this Splash pad had a direct route into my son’s soul. He was ready to dance.

    Clean and fresh air mixed with a renewed burst of new music as I walked to the edge of the pavilion. I removed my shoes and socks. “Ready?” I asked, repressing another sigh. Maybe it was time to open my ears and dance again. It would be nice to relive that piece of my childhood from that day. A piece of a song with lyrics I could no longer recall. Back when I could hear its true magical tune. Colton nodded his head and he jumped up and down.

    “One, two, three, go,” I said. My heart squeezed. I’ve never been able to say ‘no’ to those warm dark eyes, which widened with impending excitement. I sprinted under the soaker as it drenched me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. The water seeped through my clothing and stuck to my skin. Even my underwear was soaked. And sticking to my behind. Ugh. I blinked. My vision blurring as water trickled down my forehead and into my contact lenses. I wiped my eyes, trying to ignore the music – specially designed for adults – that attempted to slither into my positive vibes. A song full of a heaping dose of
    reality, sharp notes and occasional swear words. I wanted to hear my son’s music. I turned and watched Colton as he ran behind me, the water drenching him as well.

    “Yay,” Colton said as water dripped down his face, leaving white streaks from the sunblock behind. He jumped up and down and gave me another smile so wide, his teeth gleamed and his eyes crinkled. His smile was an organic smile. A natural one. Pure. One from the source of his happiness. The additives and preservatives that normally fill the guarded cynicism of an adult smile were absent. Colton giggled; the sweet notes a welcome melody to my heart. I smiled, my heart dripping from the thawing of the ice crystals that had coated it for so long. I heard my son’s music, now I wanted to show him my organic smile.

    For once, I didn’t think about my future problems, I didn’t think about my past. I just concentrated on the present, like my son, like all the children at the Splash pad that day. I dashed through the other sprinkler, a blue and yellow arch, and stood in front of a fire hydrant and ran around with my son for an hour, listening to music I thought my ears could no longer hear.

    “Mommy, I had fun today,” said Colton later on after we had left the Splash pad. His heart, it seemed grew with each activity we participated in together.

    The afternoon summer activity trickled into the heart of this mom as well. Today, I heard the tune, I smiled organically, I bonded with my son, and for just a small moment, I relived the past – my childhood. I gave my son a
    wide smile. Today was a good day.

    • Sophie Novak

      It’s a very sweet piece, Chrissy; one that reminds you of the things that matter: seize the present and nurture the child in you. Children are always an inspiration for how we should live. Thanks for sharing the story and I hope to see you here again.

      • chrissy94

        Thank you Sophie! My son teaches me so much about life and gives me plenty of material to write about! Rereading the piece has given me new ideas and insight from a new perspective. I’ve been working on my first fiction novel, and I’ve been having a hard time with the emotional aspect of the hero. I’m going to try and use this emotion I felt when I wrote this piece and attempt to strengthen his scenes. Thank you!

        • Sophie Novak

          Sounds great. Good luck with the novel!

  • Becca

    It attacks without prelude, without warning, lurking around in the dark corners of your mind where you chose not to dwell. One moment, absolutely fine, the next, it feels like your soul is being ripped into a million pieces and that there’s just nothing left to live for because there is no way that I can change anything that I hate and there is no chance that anyone can ever love such a broken puppet.

    I’m half empty, after all. I can turn my emotions on and off like a lightswitch. Nobody should be able to select what to feel and what not to feel, even if it doesn’t work for me sometimes. It does most of the time. I don’t want to feel anything today? No problem, I’ll just make everything stop and go into Sociopath Lockdown. I like Sociopath Lockdown, though. It’s warm there. It’s safe. So sometimes I don’t feel things for months.

    Indeed, I find myself thinking it’s unfortunate that I can’t go much longer than a few months. Every barrier will fall eventually, each wall will crumble, and all the strongholds will wither. Physics apply to the mind sometimes, too, and this isn’t an exception.

    It hurts, when it breaks. Like all the emotion I’ve held back for who knows how long has just kept pounding till something cracks open and comes flooding in. There is some physical pain, and for a moment I can’t remember how to breathe and my heart doesn’t remember how to beat.

    Half and half, a hybrid, I think I’m certainly something less than human…

    • The Cody

      I really liked this piece and thought it was vulnerable and powerful. I liked the line “There is some physical pain,and for a moment I can’t remember how to breathe and my heart doesn’t remember hot to beat.” We’ve all had that moment where something floods in and our body seems to forget itself.

    • Sophie Novak

      I was intrigued by the Sociopath Lockdown concept. I recently tried to write a piece of a man who tried to be indifferent, but I can’t seem to personally relate with that condition. Well done, Becca.

  • ShanonaWriter

    When writing I use both…unknown worlds and the fantastical, with what I’ve known and my experiences sprinkled in just where I need them. =) My nakedness is somewhat cloaked then, but feels just as raw to me. I think it’s impossible to write without *some* truth or baring of the soul. To me that’s the essence of writing…besides taking a reader out of their world, it’s also about bringing them into yours.
    Thanks for an insightful post, Sophie! ♥

    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks Shanona! I agree, some baring of the soul does come true, whether willingly or not, and when its complete and conscious it achieves great power.

  • I write naked, literally.

    How’s that for personal? [Personal +1]

    My very best writing comes when I feel something, whether real or imagine, whether based on my own experiences or the experiences of the character. You cannot write about feelings in an impersonal way and still instill those emotions in the reader.

    • Sophie Novak

      You know, I was meaning to add that if being naked makes you write bolder, then by all means do it. 🙂

  • The Cody

    I don’t know if God (god?) exists.

    But I need him to.

    The thought of pouring through (this?) life without a pair of eyes watching is horrifying. Even if they’re just unintruding eyes that will never do anything more than blink occasionally.

    Why? I don’t know.

    I just need it. I’m hungry and people say there’s food all around me. However, the second I try focus on a potato chip or candy bar, it’s gone. Then I’m not sure if I imagined it or if something is so wrong with me, I’m just unable to eat while others can (is a blurry glimpse enough to keep you satisfied?).

    Necessity doesn’t equal existence, though.

    Ultimately it comes down to this: I’m a proof person. You can tell me all day long there are pies and hot dogs and hamburgers on that table. But if I’m blindfolded and my nose is stuffed with cotton and I can’t take just one bite, my growling stomach will disagree with you all day long.

    But that’s what faith is supposed to be about, right? The holiest person is the one who didn’t see yet still believed?

    Therein lies the conundrum. And faith just doesn’t resonate with me.

    And so I push and push and push myself, hoping if I do that one more right thing or say that one more right prayer, philanthropy will outweigh the mystery and I’ll be rewarded with mystical proof.

    The problem is, I’ve always believed you shouldn’t be rewarded if your motive is the prize, not the deed.

    And so the circle continues.

    • Sophie Novak

      I really like this. It holds good arguments and one can easily relate to it. I’ve been thinking similar thoughts too, and it’s definitely a complicated issue to describe.

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  • Alyssa Phillips

    Alright well here is my practice. It definitely left me feeling vulnerable so I imagine that is a good thing. This is my darker self, I try and control it but sometimes it’s not so easy.

    All you see is a smile. All I show is what I want you to see. I watch your movements, I listen to your tone and pay attention to your words. You reveal all you are. While I hide everything I am from you. You say I’m hard to read, I say your giving away all of your secrets. So easy to manipulate, so easy to use. I was raised by tigers and wait for a time to strike. Life has been too cruel and the world far too dull for me. You can be my entertainment while I twist you any way I see fit. If only you knew, you would never be so trusting. Don’t you know there are monsters in this world? Things waiting in the shadow that would devour you without a second thought.

  • Elise Martel

    But, I had to say goodbye. I loved him. Like crazy loved him.
    I forced my fingers to let go of him. I wanted to flail out and grab him.
    But I didn’t.
    I let him go.
    I had to.
    It hurt.
    Down the steps I tumbled. That’s why they call it falling in love, I guess. Cause when you fall, it hurts. Unless you are too overwhelmed in being googly eyed to notice the scraped elbows and bruised knees.
    He went to where he needed to go. I stayed. I had to.
    I couldn’t hold him back, couldn’t stop him from where he was supposed to be. Wouldn’t stop him, actually. He’s doing what he was meant to do.
    But where does that leave me?

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