Story Hospital

#18: Writing Erotica from the Margins

Dear Story Nurse,

I have this problem, and I can already hear the punchline: “Dear Story Nurse, it hurts when I do this.” “Don’t do that, then.”

I want to write salable Kindle porn. Write something I think a largish category of people will get off on, in a similar structure and length and style to what’s selling currently in that category, format it correctly, pay a designer a fair amount for an appealing and professional-looking cover, put it up, lather, rinse, repeat. I know people who do this. It works for them, and I think that’s great.

I’m disabled and on a limited income, and this seems to be the most promising way to increase my income without doing things that are harmful to me or unethical. I know I can write to order, and write things other people will enjoy—I’ve done that for fanfic exchanges. But whenever I sit down to work on one of these projects, something in me balks.

It’s not that I have an ethical problem with writing what will sell, or with helping to get other people off. I think it’s an entirely fair way to make a living, and more useful to the planet than a lot of other ways. No, what’s bothering me is resentment. There’s no Kindle category for people like me. I’m too niche for that, in too many ways.

And when I set to work on one of these projects, the thoughts start up: they wouldn’t want to help you get off, why should you help them? They probably don’t even think your kink/(a?)sexuality/gender/body type/neurotype is valid! They don’t think you matter. Or, more plausibly: you’re contributing to your own erasure. Why aren’t you using your writing time and skill to help your own communities? (Of course, when I work on a project that is more geared to people like me, a different set of thoughts starts up.)

I don’t know if I need a strategy to deal with the discouraging thoughts, or advice on juggling multiple writing projects at one time while maintaining enough focus to complete any of them, or a kick in the pants about my trite, unoriginal saleability versus creative integrity dilemma. I have a therapist, but “How do I get over myself and write the sex scenes?” isn’t something I can see myself asking her.

Help? Thank you for reading,

A Martian

Dear Martian,

I’m sorry you’re having so much trouble with this. It sounds like you’re caught in a real emotional struggle. You’re right that the easy answer is “Don’t write porn,” but it’s not clear to me that avoiding sex scenes, specifically, would actually resolve anything for you. If you wrote about abled people riding horses, I think you’d feel just as resentful. If you wrote about disabled people riding horses, I think you’d feel just as pigeonholed. Your complicated feelings about dis/ability and marginalization will exist regardless of whether you embark upon this particular career.

However, there is a particular emotional and psychological weight to writing about sex, and especially to writing about sex in ways that the reader is supposed to find arousing. You’re creating a fantasy. If it’s a fantasy you enjoy, that means tapping into your own feelings about sex and your body, which can be difficult when you’re disabled and more difficult if your disability interferes with your sex life. If it’s a fantasy you don’t enjoy, writing it requires you to try to understand the mind of someone who does enjoy it, an exercise that can range from wearying to actively unpleasant. Any fantasy can carry feelings of guilt and shame, because as a society we are extremely good at finding ways to shame ourselves for sexuality of any kind. Creating sexual fantasies for money carries a particularly heavy cultural burden. You also mention possibly being asexual, which I imagine would add another layer of difficulty, or at least of complexity, to writing about sex.

In short, although you’ve categorized writing mainstream erotica as not harmful to you, I think you should consider whether that’s actually true. I’m not saying “That sounds hard, so just give up”; I’m saying “Don’t harm yourself.” This is not the only ethical career choice that’s open to you, even given your limitations. Do your best to get away from “I should be able to do this” and bluntly examine whether it’s a good idea for you to do this. You probably make similar calculations around activities that are difficult because of your disability (like thinking “It’s technically possible for me to go to that event, but it involves a lot of standing and I’ll be in pain for the next week, and it’s just not worth it”), so you know how it works. Apply the same metric to erotic writing. Are you going to get enough out of it for it to be worth the cost? Will it be enjoyable enough to be sustainable as a career? That balking part of your brain sure doesn’t think so, and it’s quite possibly a good idea to listen to it.

If you decide you want to forge ahead with erotic writing, here are some suggestions for making the writing itself as easy on yourself as possible:

And in addition to the writing, there’s your own psychological and emotional situation to consider:

I’m sorry you don’t feel you can talk with your therapist about your difficulties with erotic writing, because it seems to me that this would be an entirely valid topic for discussion and potentially quite fruitful. I completely get that it can be difficult to talk with a therapist about sex-related matters, but therapists are very used to their clients struggling with conversations on that topic, and ideally yours would be supportive and helpful. Also, this isn’t just about “getting over yourself” to write sex scenes. Erotic writing connects with a lot of things that are important to you: disability, resentment of people who aren’t disabled, your body, your (a?)sexuality, self-criticism, financially supporting yourself, having an ethical career and doing work that’s good for marginalized people, maybe even feeling like you need to keep up with those friends of yours who do this for a living. I really strongly recommend trying to talk with your therapist about at least some of those things, even if you don’t fully explain how they came up.

If you do want to try telling your therapist that your stress around writing is specifically triggered by writing erotic scenes, I recommend starting with something along these lines: “Therapist, I have been considering writing erotic stories, and that turns out to be loaded with a lot of baggage for me. I’d like to talk about some of the thoughts and feelings it’s brought up. It’s awkward and uncomfortable for me to talk about sex in a therapy setting, so please be patient if I’m very hesitant or can’t make eye contact or frequently need to pause and collect myself. It may turn out that I just can’t talk about this but I would like to try.”

The intersection of sex and capitalism is a really messy place. It’s absolutely true that plenty of people set up shop there and do very well by themselves. It’s also absolutely true that a lot of people try it and find it’s not to their tastes. There’s no shame in either choosing to do it or deciding it’s not for you. Either way, please be good to yourself. I hope you find lots of ways to genuinely enjoy and have fun with your writing.


Story Nurse

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