The Fickle Muse


Erotic writers, like non-erotic writers, need to feel motivated and inspired. For some of us, the impulse to write feels so connected to sexual energy that all our writing—including the most “respectable”—seems to flow from our glands as well as our brains. For those who write as a hobby, whenever the mood strikes, this isn’t a problem.

Becoming a “professional” (getting paid, being invited to submit stories by editors who know our work, being expected to produce new work by a deadline, being invited to speak at conferences or workshops) means entering a different game. At this point, sex writing becomes a kind of sex work. Customers expect professionals to show real enthusiasm as well as skill, but no one’s energy or libido runs full-strength all the time. Sometimes the well seems to run dry.

Some of the most accomplished writers on the ERWA lists have complained about crawling through the desert of the empty mind, where ideas for stories, poems or plays look sparse and unworthy. Panic and self-contempt tend to make the imaginative drought worse.

When a lack of interest in sex-writing is accompanied by a lack of interest in sex, the sufferer can feel as if his/her life is over. Significant Others (as distinct from paying customers, who can just go elsewhere) tend to resent rejection or obvious fakery. Some blame the writer’s erotic writing as the cause of the problem, as though the writing were an interfering human rival.

The writer’s relationship can become so painful for everyone involved that it could inspire a tragic plot about interpersonal alienation. But that is a whole other can of worms. A writer who feels guilty for disappointing a lover or spouse as well as an editor is likely to avoid the writing process as much as possible. Procrastination aggravates the writer’s sense of failure.

The sixteenth-century English poet Sir Philip Sidney began his sequence of love sonnets, “Astrophil and Stella,” by complaining of writer’s block. “Astrophil” (star-lover), i.e. Sir Philip, claims that he can’t find accurate words to describe “Stella,” the star of his life, or his feelings for her. He has tried reading the work of other writers for inspiration:

“. . .Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burned brain.”

The results have been disappointing:

“But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay;
Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows;
And others’ feet still seemed but strangers in my way.”

What to do? A supernatural being, the poet’s “Muse”or guardian spirit, intervenes:

“‘Fool,’ said my Muse to me, ‘look in thy heart, and write.'”

This seems like good advice to me, especially if “heart” is interpreted broadly. In my experience, neither ideas nor the motivation to write ever really go away; they simply hibernate or disappear temporarily when not treated with the respect they need to do their job. In this sense, each of us seems to have a touchy Muse who responds to neglect by going on strike.

The kind of help that wanderers in the sexual/imaginative desert usually ask for seems exactly wrong to me. A person in that condition is likely to be distracted by various demands, conflicting messages and obligations already. Adding more outside stimulation to the mix is likely to increase the clamor in the sufferer’s psyche.

Sometimes one needs to turn off the rest of the world and find a quiet room of one’s own in order to hear the Muse. Living in a human body is inherently sensual, so hearing what yours has to say is likely to lead to sexual feelings if they are not suppressed or outshouted. Physical feelings are connected to emotions as well as images. Before you know it, a story may unfold before your mind’s-eye.

Whether your goal is to reawaken sexual feelings or to conceive a new piece of writing, try asking your physical self these questions:

  • Feet, how ya doing? You work hard, carrying me from place to place. I bet you would like a massage, or at least some fresh air and something good on your skin. How do you like this carpet?
  • Legs, you beautifully curved columns, you support me well. How would you like to be touched?
  • Ahh Crotch, you contain treasures. Do you really want to be left alone? If so, I’ll come back to you later. Remember that you can ask for what you want.
  • Buttocks, you sassy cushions. You have muscles under the fat that gives you such an appealing shape. I’ll just flex you a few times. Feel free to pass a message to Crotch.

By now, you’re getting the picture. Focusing on each part of your body in turn, from feet to head or vice versa, is the best way I know of to reawaken the Muse. And despite what prudish authority figures have told you about the animal stupidity of human flesh, physical feelings are rarely crude or simple. (For that matter, even animals have their own wisdom, as pet-owners know.)

Just for the moment, data on which genres are still selling well in a troubled publishing market have no relevance. Feet, arms, tummy and all the other parts connected to them don’t care about the market. Neither do they care about deadlines, guidelines, negative reviews, wars in the blogosphere, or grammatical issues. There is a place for all those things, but they don’t belong in a quiet room prepared for the Muse.

I wish I could honestly say that I never get lost in the desert of writer’s block or sexual indifference, but I am subject to the same distractions as other people living in the modern world—and my immediate environment is more urban than you might imagine when I say that I live on the vast prairie in the heart of North America. The town I live in has a population of 200,000, which was the size of London, England, when Wordsworth wrote a love-sonnet to the city, “Lines Upon Westminster Bridge,” in 1802.

Now there’s a thought. If the Muse lives in every body, she also lives in every place. Living “mindfully,” or paying attention to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, temperature and vibes of the place where you are, is the best way I know of to coax her out. After that, the rest of the process is just fine-tuning.

Jean Roberta
October 2008

“Sex Is All Metaphors” © 2008 Jean Roberta. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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