by Rachel Kramer Bussel
This post was originally going to be about why tattoos are sexy, and I promise I will write about that soon, but instead, I wanted to give those of you who want to write, or have dreamed of writing, or do write but have doubted yourself lately a little pep talk. (For the record, I place myself in that final category.)
I know not all of you reading Lady Smut consider yourself writers, but I also know that almost all, if not all, writers start out as readers. There’s a huge overlap between the two groups, and so for those of you who’ve ever entertained the idea of writing but put it off because you weren’t sure of your abilities, or were nervous about what people would think because you write romance or erotica or sex scenes, or for any other reason, I want to say: the world wants your writing.
Now, that may sound grandiose, especially because I can’t guarantee that you will sell your writing or find a wide readership; nobody can guarantee that, and that’s okay. I can tell you that your writing is valuable no matter how many people read it and that if you put it out there, wherever “out there” is, someone will read it.
I teach erotica writing classes in person and online, and every single time I do, I’m struck by the fact that many of my students are taking a huge risk in daring to open themselves to a genre that is still often looked down up, maligned and misunderstood. There’s often a lot of fear about even putting down sexy words on their computer screen, let alone showing them to anyone else. But when they do it anyway, they are almost always amazed at how freeing it is to simply start unleashing the images and scenes and ideas that have been floating around in their head.
I was inspired today to share this pep talk by an essay novelist Jaime Clarke wrote at Literary Hub titled “Why I Quit Being a Writer.” Before I even started reading it, even though I’m not familiar with Clarke’s work, I felt a pang of sadness, because for me, writing has been the mainstay of my life, the thing that has gotten me through the toughest of times, that has allowed me to access other worlds and communities, the thing that has always grounded and centered me. After finishing the essay, I have a better understanding of Clarke’s perspective, and I respect it, but I also know that so many would-be writers quit before they start, or quit at the first sign of rejection, or let someone else’s opinion matter more than their own, and I want to encourage you get right back out there and keep writing, if it’s something that’s at all important to you.
That’s not to say writing is “easy.” For me, certain pieces flow out of me as if fully formed, and others are absolutely agonizing, each word one I have to search my mind desperately to conjure. Often, I have to trick myself into writing, daring myself to write a certain number of words or for a given time period simply to get my fingers moving, even if what comes out looks to me like gibberish. I’ve written short stories that have gotten published and when I’ve read them later, all I could see was where I wish I’d done things differently.
But that’s all part of the process. Our writing experience doesn’t necessarily end when we hit send or publish or see our name in print. While the words may remain static, our minds do not. There is always the next story, the next chapter, the next blank page to tackle.
For me, I find that when I start to compare myself with other writers, that’s where I start to falter. Whether that’s ogling their Instagram accounts or fancy blurbs or book reviews, the truth is, I will never be that person or able to write in their voice. I can certainly hone my craft, but at the end of the day, I can only write as myself—and that’s a good thing. That’s where your strength, uniqueness and individuality come into play, and where your words can shine and draw in readers who want to hear what you and only you have to say.
signing at Book Expo America
Last week, I attended book publishing convention Book Expo America (BEA) to sign copies of my anthology Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, and also to simply observe all the new books surrounding me and talk to others who are as passionate about books as I am. It would be very easy to get discouraged at such an event, to feel like such a small fish in such a giant pond that I might as well swim away and shut up. Instead, I made sure to truly connect with the many readers, writers, librarians, booksellers and distributors I spoke with, to feel grateful that out of the hundreds of thousands of books published each year, there were people who were excited about mine.
Back in March, Elizabeth Shore posed the question, “Should we be writing if nobody’s reading?” This post is my way of saying to you, whether you’re a multi-published author, a budding writer, or someone who’s never even contemplated picking up a pen, that yes, you should. Now, I’m not arguing that everyone is somehow obligated to write; not everyone wants to express themselves in that format.
Yet based on my experience teaching hundreds of erotica writing students, I have a strong feeling that the line between “reader” and “writer” is incredibly malleable. Witness all the erotic authors who’ve said that on some level, the success of Fifty Shades of Grey inspired them to start writing, whether because they thought they could do better, or they saw that E.L. James didn’t come to fiction from a lofty place on high, but as a TV executive turned writer of fan fiction. Maybe you don’t see yourself as a writer today, but tomorrow something fabulous and unexpected, or horribly life-changing, or explosively erotic, happens and you find yourself thinking, I have to write about this. If you wind up in that position, even it’s just a momentary inkling and you have no idea what will happen after you write the first sentence, do it. Don’t hesitate, don’t wait, don’t look to anyone else for “permission.”
Here’s the thing about writing: you never know who’s reading, who’s paying attention, who’s absorbing what you write. You might think you’re writing for people who look and sound and think like you, but find that your work connects with people who are in totally different places in life than you are. There’s no way of knowing that until you put those words down and send them off into the world, whether that’s a blog post, a Facebook status update, a short story, an essay, a book, a magazine, or a handwritten missive posted on a coffeeshop bulletin board. Call it woo-woo if you like, but I fully believe that the right people will find your words at the right time, and I don’t mean because you used the perfect SEO or used the best Amazon meta tags or hired the best book cover designer, but because you wrote something that mattered to you.
Here’s something wise my writer friend Lauren Baratz-Logsted posted today on Facebook: “If you’ve written something that has made just one person laugh or think of the world in a new way, if you’ve made one person who while in a dark night of the soul say, ‘I’m staying alive to keep reading so I can find out how this thing turns out’ thereby helping that person see another dawn: you’ve already succeeded.”
One of the reasons I’m so passionate about erotica is because it welcomed me into its folds (I promise I didn’t mean that as a double entendre) when I as at a point in my life when I wasn’t sure what direction to take. I was in law school but increasingly feeling out of touch with my classmates and found myself ditching class because I didn’t understand the material and, most importantly, realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do next, but I found myself starting to submit erotica stories and getting them published, one by one. Those first few stories led to editing my first erotica anthology back in 2004, and now 12 years later I’ve edited over 60 of them. I say this not to brag, but simply to point out that I entered this field with one idea that has since blossomed into something far greater than I could have imagined. But none of that would have happened if I didn’t take that first idea and let it come to life.
Erotica is, I fully believe, just as welcoming and eager for new authors as it was back then. There are new publishers popping up all the time and new ways for writers to reach readers, whether it’s blogging, Wattpad, self-publishing or other means. Erotica editors want your stories. Right now there are calls for submissions open for everything from lesbian romance to “characters living and loving while STI-positive” to the theme of, simply, lust, to name but a few. What you do with those topics is up to you, but the point is: they are ripe for your own spin.
Maybe I sound like an erotica Pollyanna, but I don’t care. I don’t want any of you to miss out on the joy of sharing your words with readers because you let fear get in the way. Happy Friday, and happy writing, wherever your words take you.
Rachel Kramer Bussel is the editor of over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, Dirty Dates, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, The Big Book of Orgasms and Fast Girls. She interviews women about their sex lives for Elle.com and writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture. Find out more at eroticawriting101.com and follow her @raquelita on Twitter. Sign up for book giveaways in her monthly newsletter at rachelkramerbussel.com.