Occasionally, you need to write naked… or at least out of your comfort zone

Writing naked is a great way to challenge yourself. It can also get you a private cubicle.
Writing naked is a great way to challenge yourself. It can also get you a private cubicle.
That unmistakable sound of jingling pocket change on Friday can only mean one thing: It’s time for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! Unless Friday is your laundry day. Or the day you treat yourself to breakfast from the vending machine at work.

But let’s assume you’re here for my weekly writing tip, which is offered up from 15 years as a newspaper columnist. And let’s further assume that kind of writing pedigree was extremely impressive. Then you would understand why some of today’s most respected fictional writers and equally fictional educators have referred to my NWOW as:

Advice you’d expect from someone who is indeed a professional. Wait, I said in need of a professional…


Required reading for my students whenever I’m mad at them or too hung over to actually teach…

Admittedly, I am a bit embarrassed. Not only by those gushing accolades, but also because I am writing this post while naked — which brings us to this week’s Nickel’s Worth. At this moment, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why is he writing naked?!” Unless of course — and this is understandable — you didn’t actually notice. I should clarify the sum of 5 cents and my being naked aren’t related. At least not directly. What I will say is this: If I were a stripper, I would be the only one with a change belt instead of a money pouch. And we’ll just leave it at that.

Ok, so why am I writing in the buff? To make a point about the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. See? Aren’t you uncomfortable? While there is a lot to be said about maintaining a writing routine, it’s important to avoid a rut by challenge yourself to drift out of your comfort zone from time to time. That’s the place where we discover aspects of our writing voice we hadn’t considered — or even knew we had. Think of it as being in a choir; while it’s comforting to know you can lip-sync if you forget the words, you can’t develop your own sound until you risk a few solos. (Note: It isn’t necessary to perform your solo naked. I just wanted to make that clear…)

While I have developed a certain style as a columnist that readers have come to recognize, thus allowing them to immediately turn the page, I make the most of my blogging opportunities by contributing to different sites whenever I’m fortunate enough to be asked. This weekly post is one example. Until I was asked by Sara O’Connor at Gliterary Girl to contribute a weekly feature on writing, I never would have considered offering my insights and potentially stalling the careers of thousands of other writers. What I discovered is that spending a few hours each week thinking about what it takes to be a writer has forced me to examine my own writing. Which is a welcome distraction when I’m naked.

Recently, I became a contributor to The Grimm Report, which is a truly funny blog dedicated to “hard-hitting” news from the fairytale world. While it’s written in a vein familiar to me because of my journalist background, I still have to do my fairytale research and step outside my normal writing “zone.” In short, I still feel like I’m risking a solo whenever I push the “post” button there. But I know it’s good for me to feel a little nervous. Which is why I make sure I am fully dressed when I submit my posts.

Getting out of your comfort zone can be a simple as participating in any of the “Daily Writing Challenges” hosted by WordPress or other bloggers, responding to open submissions on blogs or websites, or reading and commenting on sites you wouldn’t normally visit. The one important factor is that it should involve active participation, i.e., it should involve some level of “risk” by being open to a response or feedback — positive or negative. That’s where the line between “comfort” and “discomfort” is drawn. It can’t be expanded if it isn’t crossed.

One final thing about comfort zones: The more you push them, the larger they get. The end result is an expanding level of comfort within different types of writing, from subject matter to style. This leads to new perspectives, writing opportunities and a stronger voice — which is why, as writers, we need to keep expanding.

As long as we don’t have to show up to any book signings naked.

(Ned is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. You can write to him at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

65 thoughts on “Occasionally, you need to write naked… or at least out of your comfort zone”

  1. There’s got to be something sarcastic that can be said about you writing naked in front of a sign that says “do not go beyond this point”.

  2. Exposing your words to others can be much more vulnerable, than exposing your nakedness. writing naked is a double MENTAL exposure, hiding nothing, laying yourself open and trusting that you will be treated kindly, with respect or in some instances… simple shock and awe.

    1. Absolutely. Your words expose something deeper than the flesh, and reveal something about yourself in a way that is more unprotected. You are exposing your essence, which is a much bigger risk.

      That said, my attempt to “walk to talk” is probably closer to a less than shocking “awwwwe.” I suppose I could’ve gone with eating tripe as an example of pushing my comfort zone.

  3. Sound advice, Ned … in the spirit of which I have written this answer sitting on the loo … which, as we have not yet got the heating on in our house, is waaayyyy outside my comfort zone.

  4. Spooky Ned, I was only saying to my Queen yesterday that if I was asked to contribute to another blog I’d probably refuse…but now I would have to give any such offer serious consideration before refusing…thanks, I’m off to put my clothes back on. REDdog

  5. As you have become the inspiration for my career, I have taken your advice to heart. I stripped down and sat down on the couch, hammering away the keyboard, the words were flowing, I thought to myself “Ned’s a genius,” the furniture store owner said they were calling the police.

    You owe me bail money…..

  6. I forgot my comment, Ned. It must be all this talk about nakedness. I, in fact, asked this very question on my blog once and some bloggers admitted that, in fact, that was the only way they blogged. I’m not sure I believed them. I’m eating salmon and I’m not naked! Excellent advice, too.

  7. When you write naked where do you keep the nickel?
    Second thought, never mind.
    Third thought, thankfully you don’t have a million dollars as that would be hard to “hold” while naked.

    OK I’ve thought about a naked man writing too much for a Saturday morning.

  8. Ned, I have to say your article not only gave me pause to roll that thought around in my brain and agree, but also made me *snort* at more than one point. That may not sound like a good thing… it is. I’m just glad the coffee was still in the cup and not in transition to my mouth at the same exact moment.

    1. Thanks, Lindy! I’m glad to provide a good snort, and that there wasn’t any hot coffee spillage involved. Especially if you were following my nakedness advice.

  9. Your biggest fan here,
    Thank you SO much for sharing this post. Aside from your humor that always draws me, I was also completely hooked by the content. I’ve only been writing/blogging for three months and already am struggling with my voice. Do I write for myself or my audience (all three of them!). Obviously, I know the correct answer to that, but it still doesn’t give me enough courage to put myself out there…naked, vulnerable and authentic. Heck, I’m scared to use curse words somedays even though the expletives are screaming to be let out.
    Even though my site is all about being real and celebrating imperfection, I readily admit that it’s still quite responsibly filtered and fully clothed in a manner that covers me safely while getting to remain likeable and pretty–kinda like a 1980 pastel purple Gunny Sax prom dress. Ironically, I’ve had a draft sitting on my dashboard for several weeks titled, “Let’s get Naked!” It doesn’t have a single sentence or photo attached, but I know it’s a subject I want to attack at some point. Maybe I’ll try that skydiving gig first.
    Thanks for the inspiration. Feel free to pass those along any time!

    1. “Kinda like a 1980 pastel purple Gunny Sax prom dress…”
      Haha! That is quite possibly one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read. As for the draft, it sounds promising, Michelle, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s still on your dashboard. It’s sort of like the impulse buy theory: If you walk away and forget about it, then you didn’t really need it. If you’re still thinking about it after you leave the store, then it’s more than an impulse. Because it’s still on your dashboard, it’s more than an impulse. You’ll know when you’re ready to write it 😉

      I’m going to do something I don’t normally do, simply because I don’t want to sound schmucky, but since you asked, I’m attaching the link to my weekly “Nickel’s Worth on Writing” archive. It’s basically more posts on writing, which I do each Friday. I really hope it’ll offer some inspiration, and won’t come off as self serving. Whether or not you check it out, I’m appreciative of your kind words and am glad I can give you a laugh and a bit of inspiration 😉


      Looking forward to that post and others.


  10. Hi Ned!
    The last way I would describe you is “self serving” and I truly appreciate the link. I’m gathering reserves from all resources at this point 🙂
    Regarding the Gunny Sax description…I only was able to do so well because that thing is still hanging in the closet back at my parent’s house. It was high necked, itchy, fluffy and a daddy’s dream. I think you have a daughter(s)…they are welcome to borrow it when it’s time. Thanks again, Ned! I will look forward to Fridays (even more than I do already!)

    1. My oldest daughter just graduated from high school last year, but I may call when my seventh grader enters high school. Then again, I might just make a her a dress out of car fenders.

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