Suffering for my Art?

by | August 21, 2021 | General | 1 comment

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay

There’s a popular belief that we writers are tortured souls. A bit of Googling will produce long lists of authors who committed suicide. Meanwhile, the process of writing is often portrayed as a painful, never-ending struggle to capture elusive ideas in the imperfect medium of language. Who is unfamiliar with the portrait of the author hunched over his scribbles in the chill hours between midnight and dawn, flanked by a smoldering cigarette on one side, the dregs of a whiskey on the other, the floor strewn the crumpled remains of discarded pages?

Aldous Huxley wrote: “Perhaps it’s good for one to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he’s happy? Would he ever want to do anything? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life?”

I really wonder about this stereotype, though. Most of the writers I know seem to be moderately stable and well-adjusted individuals. Of course they’re sometimes stressed by deadlines or frustrated by the difficulty of getting their ideas out of their heads and onto the page. Like me, though, they seem to write mostly for the joy of it, the thrill that comes from creating characters and their stories and sharing them with the world.

A snide reader might remark that erotica doesn’t count, because it’s not “art”. I’m not going to split hairs trying to specify what does and does not qualify for that label. That would be an endless argument (akin to the bottomless pit of distinguishing “erotica” from “porn”). I choose to categorize my work as art. I believe my tales reflect both creative inspiration and literary craft. The fact that I’m drawn to exploring the many varieties of desire, as opposed to other themes, is not relevant to either the quality or the value of what I create.

Do I sound defensive? It’s true that the world offers us erotica authors very little in the way of respect. But honestly, I don’t care most of the time. I love writing. I need to write, almost as much as I need to breathe. When I’m away from my WIP for too long, my spirit sags. I miss the magic of spinning fiction.

I’m proud of my writing, too. I’ve had a fair bit of success in my nearly seven decades. I have a lengthy professional resume. Still, my books (not listed on the official CV of course!) may well be my most prized personal accomplishments – even though most people in my life aren’t even aware they exist.

During the past month I haven’t been able to write, due to an injury. In some ways, that has been the most difficult part of the experience. When I couldn’t write – not just my WIP but also emails, blog posts, book reviews and critiques – I felt terribly cut off from my community of authors as well as from my creative self. I had to struggle to remember, and hold on to, the joy of being a writer.

Now I am finally starting to regain the ability for two-handed typing. I’m eager to get back to my poor, temporarily abandoned novel. Indeed, I wrote a page or so last weekend. Alas, this wasn’t easy. My right arm is healing, but typing tends to increase the pain quite a lot.

So at present, I am in fact temporarily suffering for my art. And I’m willing to do that, for now, in return for the excitement of feeling the story take shape and the satisfaction of seeing the words unfurl on the page.

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.

1 Comment

  1. Jean Roberta

    Lisabet, I’m so glad you said this. I’ve often noticed that writers don’t seem to suffer more than other people—if outward signs are a good indication. I’m sure we’re all glad that your broken arm is healing. We look forward to the next chapters of your novel. If you ever have long-turn problems using your hands to type, you could consider investing in software that enables some writers (composers?) to transcribe speech into print.

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