Last year I requested special equipment that allowed my low-tech pencil-scratchings on paper to be viewed on the large screen of a lecture room as I frantically dashed off a really sketchy hole-ridden draft of a short story (that later ended up being shelved).
The whole thing was like walking a tightrope at a frenetic pace to keep from looking down. If I'd stopped talking at any point to reflect on what I was drafting I'd have utterly lost my nerve and frozen--a physical spin on writer's block.
Like having an army of explorers invade your moon landscape. The unknown/forbidden territory of the writer's imagination.
The other subjects/specimens/guinea pigs/lab rats who kindly offered themselves up to this unholy exercise were nonfiction writers, academic writers and commentators. With one exception, I was (and probably will be this year) the only fiction/creative writer fool enough to do this.
Why? asked a curious journalist. Writing is so private; the last thing you want is an audience seeing inside your head.
A public debunking of some of the myths around creative composition, perhaps.
The writer as a kind of guide through the process.
The writer as teacher.
The writer/teacher as a "holy" fool. An invisible cipher.
(A slight bit of the show-off there too?)
WHIPS certainly does expose a person. It's a little like walking through a mall in your underwear. Clean underwear, I would say, because even in this very public display of a decidedly un-public event (the writer dealing with the blank page or screen; for an audience like watching paint dry) there is still the kernel of oneself that's held back.
So, as I await this year's WHIPS, I'm already contemplating what I'll write. It will come from the visual landscape of a story, yes, but only from the neck up. It won't be the heart that gets exposed.
There are only so many risks you are willing to take when someone is watching.