How to Write a Naked Body

For the past few weeks, I’ve been going to an untutored life drawing class. At first I went because I felt like doing some drawing, to break up a day of writing, to be loose and expressive for a few hours. Then as I sat in the art class’ particular quiet, set for the afternoon with paper and a woman lying over some cushions, I began to consider it as an act of fiction.

The model undresses and the room becomes quiet. She has a beautiful pale plump body, like a beautiful pale plump woman in clothes, except out of them. There’s a bed of pillows on the floor, a mixture, some velveteen, some knitted, and a lamp beside the woman’s ribs when she lies down, casting a yellow light into the already light room and over her middle. We begin.

Like a meditation, the mind comes in and out of focus. The body separates into its separate parts — how do I draw the arm up here? — and then even further into its colors and lines and weights and shadows.

There’s no way to achieve the likeness and the wholeness of this woman without achieving the truth of these separate parts. A moment of light on the belly. A hardness between the heel and the floorboard. I have the urge to start writing on the paper instead of drawing, as if using language could be just as free and expressive and immediate. Words swarm around my pencil — heavy, between, dark, edge, caught, roll, clear, white, not-white — and I realize I could go home and write a story, confident that I would capture something of this person.

I think we do make it difficult for ourselves sometimes. We sort of close our eyes and frown in concentration, trying to conjure the right word from our experience and our reasoning, rather than looking, beholding the thing we want to express.

Whether it’s life drawing, bee keeping, mushroom picking, window washing, putting your mind to a new non-writing task that involves looking or doing rather than overthinking is a great way to keep your writing voice alive and your subjects real.

What will you try?

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