By Lisabet Sarai
I discovered buried treasure today.
There’s a box in our storage closet
labeled “L’s Writing”. I hadn’t examined it in quite a while. I
knew it held my old journals, my poetry notebooks, various term
papers, theses and other academic artifacts. I couldn’t recall,
though, how much I’d kept of my very early schoolwork and writing.
After all, my life journey has taken me through five decades and
halfway around the world since I was in junior high school. Maybe I’d
jettisoned some of my childish output – or maybe it had
disintegrated, the paper drying out and crumbling away after half a
In particular, I was looking for a set
of science reports I remembered from eighth grade. Each week the
teacher would perform a demonstration and ask us a set of questions.
In our reports, we were supposed to diagram the experiment, then
answer the questions and draw conclusions. I liked to draw and I
liked my teacher. So instead of simple scientific figures, I created
a series of cartoons, some of them harboring private jokes. I had
great fun concocting those reports. I’m sure it took me far longer
than if I’d merely followed the instructions, but I didn’t care. I
was happy putting in the effort, expressing myself. It was homework
but it was also a kind of play.
Imagine my delight when I found a
tattered manila envelope crammed with documents going back to
elementary school – some as fragile as I’d feared, but many in
decent condition. My book reports and my compositions from French
class . My high school honors thesis about the Great Chain of Being
in Tolkein’s Middle Earth. My plays about the Beatles, about the
jealous gods of Olympus, about the 1964 presidential election. My
ghost and science fiction stories. And, just as I’d hoped, the full
set (as far as I can tell) of said science reports.
You might ask what all this has to do
with writing erotica.
I’ve been pondering the way we look at
our writing as work. Many of the posts here at the ERWA blog discuss technical aspects of the writing process. We discuss conflict and
pacing, the theory of the short story, the exterior and interior
elements of character, techniques for evoking sensory experience in
our scenes, strategies for self-editing. We wrestle with revisions.
We “kill our darlings”. We train ourselves to view everything we
write with a critical eye.
I don’t mean to minimize the importance
of self-analysis or craft. However, I sometimes worry that we’re too
analytical, too focused, too left-brained, about our writing. Or
maybe I should say “I” as opposed to “we”. I’m so concerned
with markets and word count, sentence structure and word repetition,
that I forget why I started doing this in the first place. I’ve lost
my sense of play.
Nobody taught me how to write
creatively. I’ve been doing for as long as I remember, and from the
very first, I did it for fun. I played with words, and back when I
was a kid, I played with images too, as can be seen from my eighth
grade efforts. (I was always a better wordsmith than visual artist,
though.) I was, in psychological jargon, intrinsically motivated,
writing, drawing, painting and rhyming simply because I enjoyed doing so.
And that’s what’s often missing now.
The product is what counts, from the perspective of readers and
publishers. They’re waiting for my next book. I try to ignore the
pressure, but I’m never entirely successful. The limited time I have
available for writing adds to the sense of stress. I only have this
day, these few hours – what if I can’t get the words out?
Art cannot be compelled. You have to
simply open yourself and let it flow. I know there’s a theory that
all great artists must suffer. I don’t know if I buy that, but in any
case, I’m not aspiring to greatness. No, I just want to enjoy my
writing the way I did when I was younger. I want to play.
I managed this, to some extent, with my
last novel Rajasthani Moon. I undertook this project solely
for my own amusement, as a challenge to myself: how many sub-genres
could I combine in a single book? In a sense, I was thumbing my nose
at the erotic romance establishment, which so loves to slice and
dice, categorize and label, every story. So I let my imagination run
free, and I didn’t censor myself to please my publisher. I even
included some F/F interaction, generally considered to be the
marketing kiss-of-death in traditional erotic romance. If it turned
me on, I put it in and damn the markets.
When the book was done, I knew it was
no work of enduring literary significance – but it’s lively,
entertaining, and pretty hot. Most important, I had a fabulous time
I want to do that again.
I’m willing to put in the effort it
takes to write well – but not without the payoff of having fun. Not