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Standing naked on a street corner

No, I don’t do this.

However, Norm Prady, whose writing group I’ve attended for the last ten years, tells us we need to do this, figuratively, in our writing, if we are to be effective. I was reminded of that as I came across this speech he gave at a book signing event in metro Detroit a few years ago.

It’s too good not to share so that’s what social media is for, right?

My son, Hollywood writer Bill Prady, has interesting concepts of life and the world. Bill is co-creator and chief writer of the top-rated television comedy The Big Bang Theory and I enjoy his writing and what he has to say.

After graduating from Cranbrook, Bill went to New York to work with Jim Henson and write lines for the puppeteers performing as Kermit and Miss Piggy and their friends.

The first time I visited Bill at the Muppets studio, I asked him what it was like to create dialogue for actors wearing socks on their hands.

“Well, dad,” Bill said, “there are two kinds of people. Those who believe there are two kinds of people – and those who don’t.”

It was a laugh. But I’ve never told Bill that I don’t buy his concept. You see, I believe there’s only one kind of people. That all humans are essentially the same. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, geography, culture, education, and whether you order fatty corned beef or lean.

In the creative nonfiction writing classes I conduct around my kitchen table, we talk about the fundamental sameness of people. Time and again, my students – while munching their pizza – have heard me say that all humans have the same feelings, that we all know all the dirty words, and that we’re all capable of all the capital crimes.

Yes, values and conditioning and other learned behaviors can modify our actions – so we’re able to say to someone, “You’ve made me so mad I could kill you,” and we don’t actually commit murder. Although sometimes we do.

Now, the writer’s work in all of this is to observe, recognize, and understand the dynamics of being human. To tell a story effectively, the writer needs to know how humans function – what they want, what they dread, what they’re pleased with, what they hope to keep hidden.

To create believable characters, the writer must know what’s going on inside someone in order to be able to reveal it to the reader.

It’s those revelations that are the stuff of storytelling, presented with intriguing plot, literary style, rhythmic rhetoric, and engaging vocabulary.

But to create revealing stories by revealing their characters, writers must be willing to reveal themselves.

Reveal that they’ve seen the darkness in people, the wickedness. Even in themselves. That they know the motivations of desire and anger and lust.

Writers must be willing to let themselves and their own thoughts and experiences be known through their writing.

Willing, as we say in class, to stand naked on the street corner.

Writers must be frogs, immersed in life’s waters, rather than flies, merely walking on the surface.

And writers must see their efforts as valid. With regard to their own works, they must put their abilities to create, edit, and critique above everyone else’s.

At the same time, they must be able to look at their work and evaluate it, perhaps setting this one aside for now and going on to a new project, perhaps returning later with a fresh eye.

Certainly, being published is an honorable goal. And it’s not simply for fame and fortune, but for the creative person’s constantly surging need for acceptance.

If you write – if you’re willing to stand naked on that street corner, willing to reveal your characters and yourself, willing to have your character poison her mother-in-law because you’ve thought about it and learned how to do it – you’ll just have to accept that some readers might not like your story or how you tell it.

If they say so, I urge you to thank them for their interest in your work and keep writing.

For local writers: Norm is conducting a creative non-fiction workshop on August 10 in Troy from 2:00 to 4:00pm. For further details, here is a link to that event: Creative Non-Fiction and the Death of Dull

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July 21, 2013 - 1:21 am

Jo-Anne Meadows - I found this to be an interesting read, I don’t write I don’t think I can write I have never tried to write so how do I know I can’t write I really have no idea………..

July 21, 2013 - 11:34 am

Debbie - Thanks for this, Pam. It’s possible Norm Prady will be competing with a nice up North summer gallivant as I figure out whether or not to attend this, but we’ll see. It does look like DWW might have some good workshops on the horizon, though.

July 21, 2013 - 12:52 pm

Pam Houghton - Thanks, Jo-Anne, glad you found it interesting. You’ll never know if you can write unless you start writing! But it’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. 🙂

July 21, 2013 - 12:53 pm

Pam Houghton - Be great if you can come, Deb, but completely understand the allure of going up North instead. As you say, there are more workshops to come.

July 22, 2013 - 1:17 pm

Julie DeNeen - Excellent post! I agree wholeheartedly with the sameness of humans. It’s a rather comforting (and dreadful) thought…that we all have the same capacity to love and hate.

July 22, 2013 - 1:21 pm

Pam Houghton - Comforting and dreadful – yep. Who woulda’ thought? 🙂

August 12, 2018 - 3:03 pm

Book review - Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol by Steve Jones - Pam Houghton - […] A writing mentor of mine said writers are supposed to reveal themselves in their work – stand naked on a street corner, so to speak – and Jones certainly accomplishes that […]

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