In our last episode, the one where we asked Seven Masters of the Erotic Writing Universe how they got their start, I imagined a girl standing on the entrance ramp to a freeway, holding up a sign that says: “Will Write Porn for $$.” And then I imagined that I’d be the one to stop my car and, um, investigate.
If this was actual porn, you know we’re just a few thin lines of dialog away from a backseat blowjob, at the very least. But since I’m not writing erotica, I’m much more concerned with who that girl is, and why she’s on the side of the highway, holding that sign, because there has to be a great reason. There has to be a story. Maybe it’s a PR stunt. Maybe she lost a bet. Maybe there’s something else on the sign—a name, a phone number, a web address—and I’ll need to fix that first paragraph.
I can tell you that the woman in my story will eventually write porn for money, if only to prove that she can.
If I ever finish this one, I may send it to one of the experts, below, so they can let me know what they think. Last week they told us how they got started writing erotica. This week, they offer advice for beginners, like me.
Write what you like. There are so many more outlets available now than when I started. So if you’re into paranormal, or historical, or steampunk, or gothic, or flash, or… go for what you adore. Your readers will be able to tell that you are into your work, and your writing will glimmer.
The worst mistake I made as a beginner was that I didn’t pay attention to an editor’s guidelines and I turned in a story that was completely unusable for her—which resulted in a miserable phone call, in which she told me exactly how I’d let her down. But that also made me a better writer. I work hard now to read guidelines very carefully. (I won’t turn in a first person, present-tense 5,000-word story to an editor looking for a third-person, past-tense 3,000-word piece.)
The worst mistake that beginners make comes from not knowing the difference between erotica and porn. As an editor of gay erotica, I have seen and read it all, just about. Much of what I get is well written, but some can be so silly, I have to chuckle. All the colorful descriptions writers use in describing a penis can be overkill. Always think of your reader when writing because they know B.S. when they see it. Don’t write a sex scene like something you’d see in a porn movie. We’re not all porn stars. It helps to be as realistic about the sex as you possibly can.
My advice for beginners is read. Read some of the masters of erotica. Also read some of the fiction from those who did not write erotica. There are some wonderful passages to be found in those books. I think of some of the writers I’ve studied, such as Moravia, Abe, Lawrence, Grass, Calvino, Mishima and Francis Carco … The lyricism and rhythms of their work seeped into my own writing. And yes, I’ve sampled some of the homegrown writers as well: Tennessee Williams, Hubert Selby, James Baldwin, Gayl Jones, Paul Bowles, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Jerry Stahl, Terry Southern, and Robert Olen Butler. You must read before sitting to write. You cannot write in a vacuum.
I think there are two mistakes beginners make. One is to be overly explicit, gross, vulgar, and crude. Words should suggest… evoke a mood. Words should stoke the emotional and carnal fires, not draw attention to themselves. The other is that beginners often come up short on telling strong stories populated with characters that readers will care about. There should be a practical backstory to all of the sensual action. Otherwise, it’s just porn and the people in the story just fuck. And any reader will grow bored with that.
Rachel Kramer Bussel
My advice would be to become familiar with the genre of erotica (or any genre you wish to write for), but not so familiar that you lose sight of what you personally want to bring to it. There are umpteen ways to tell a story, and you have to figure out your own style and what you feel comfortable with. Use language that suits you. Don’t try to be “erotic” or “pornographic” in a way that’s unnatural, because it’ll show in the writing.
When I’m editing an anthology, I look for a range of stories, so I want different viewpoints, settings, locations, levels of sexual experience—basically, as much variety as possible. So I’d also say to look at any given call [for stories] and try to think in an offbeat way. That doesn’t have to mean setting your story on Mars, but finding something that’ll grab the editor’s attention and stand out from the pack. For instance, there’s a story, “Chemistry” by Velvet Moore in Orgasmic: Erotica for Women that blew me away precisely because I would never have thought of chemistry as sexy, but she made it sexy in the story.
The worst mistake writers can make is to disregard my guidelines. I write very specific, detailed guidelines. (The most recent, for Obsessed and Women in Lust, are here. People either don’t read them or assume it’s okay to flout them, and that’s just not the way to go about impressing an editor.
Also, proofread your work!
Write about what interests you most. Read what other people are doing in the genre you’re trying to be published in—and read a lot. Ask yourself what you’re really trying to say. Ask yourself why your reader should care. Learn to read yourself objectively. Edit yourself brutally. Show me what to think about; don’t tell me what to think. Say it in as few words as possible. When you’re done, cut your first sentence or the entire intro paragraph (Eight times out of 10, this makes for a stronger opener.) Never take edits personally. Never confuse your ego with your writing. I’ve learned so much from great editors, but you have to learn to let go a little.
Finally: Don’t stop. A writer must write, always.
Allow yourself to be edited. I don’t attempt to rewrite work so that it’s in my “voice.” I don’t have an authorial voice myself. But I do edit to make stories tighter, more crisp, more real, and with better grammar. With way more submissions than I can fit into most collections, I don’t have much time for, or patience with, prima donnas for whom every word is a precious child.
Worst mistakes? Submitting any old story, probably already rejected elsewhere, even though it is related only tangentially, if at all, to the anthology theme. Submitting the same story year after year. Keep track of your submissions. Any story that starts with something like, “I was sitting by the pool with my shirt off, when Andy walked by and stopped to say he wanted to stroke my penis…” (an actual, almost word-for-word submission); neglecting the need for textured characters, probable plots, and plausible motivations. Good erotica writing is definitely not just all about sex. And, mundanely, leaving useful facts such as address and bio off of your submissions.
• Don’t talk about what you’re currently writing. Put your enthusiasm into the story and talk about it only after you’ve sold it.
• Daydreaming about your story is good. Daydreaming about what pseudonym you will use when you finally get around to writing your story is bad.
• Ignore the inner voice that says, You're not a real writer, and keep writing because that’s what real writers do: they write through the self-doubt.
• Remember that a rejection is one person’s opinion about one specific story on one particular day. That’s all. Don’t give it more power than that.
• Read a lot and read critically. Learn from other writers by reading what they’ve written, not by what writing advice they give.
• Write, write, write. And when you’re tired and discouraged and don’t think you can write another word, write another word. It really is just that simple. And just that hard. Stop reading my advice about writing and just go write the damned thing. Seriously.
One other thing to make your life (and your editor’s life) easier: Follow the guidelines and rules. And please, for the love of all that is good in the world, do not submit anything formatted in Comic Sans Serif font. Ever.
To purchase the Naked Reader Book Club selections, visit the Naked Reader Book Club Store.
|The Naked Reader Book Club||Selections for August 2010|
|Red Hot Erotica, edited by Alison Tyler||Mile High Club—Plane Sex Stories, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel|
|Do Not Disturb—Hotel Sex Stories Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel|