On Being a Writer With Skin in the Game

Untitled Blue / via Flickr

Untitled Blue / via Flickr

Today’s guest post is by author L.L. Barkat (@llbarkat).


“Why don’t you like to talk about your writing?” I asked. “I mean, you’re not writing erotica or something, are you?”

I was taking a business contact out for tea. I was kidding.

But, moments later I discovered I was right. This is exactly why my contact was shy to discuss her writing. Unbeknownst to me, I was taking a fairly well-known erotica writer to tea, albeit under her real name.

Well.

There’s a part of me that is not completely comfortable talking about my writing either, and for similar reasons: the best of it is highly personal, even as it is universal. There is, as they say, skin in the game, and it feels a little exhibitionistic to discuss it. I have a poem in my new collection, Love, Etc., that deals with this question of the how far the writer must go, and the poem disturbs me. Here is an excerpt.

The canes were stripped,
and maybe you will see
a woman in them, or your
very soul, and you will wish
you were a stripper,
no longer holding out
on the world…

Of course, I did not need to put the poem in the collection. Who would have been the wiser if I left it out? But I put it in, because part of what I am struggling to express in the collection is the uneasy pact the writer (and later, the writer-as-marketer) makes with the world: yes, come see I’ve got skin in the game.

I say “uneasy” because there is such a delicate balance. Push too far, and you are the next “raw, authentic” writer who is really just manipulating the crowd with too much information. (Better to save that for Snapchat and let the record disappear.) Don’t push far enough, and you are holding out on the world, and the reader knows instinctively there’s nothing worth staying for.

Does it matter?

I think it does, and not just from an artistic standpoint.

The sheer volume of materials available to today’s readers means that they will need to begin to make more and more choices. Time constraints, fatigue, and economics will compel them to do so.

Best, then, to think long term as a writer.

My erotica-writing contact exhausted herself pretty quickly. It was not an easy life, not terribly sustaining (although she says she had fun for a while). Compare this to a writer like Rebecca Solnit, whose book The Faraway Nearby we read just together as a community, at the site I manage. The Faraway Nearby is Solnit’s thirteenth book, and I am not sure she had fun at all, writing it, but it is a beauty that will have staying power.

As many writers do, I am now speaking to myself as much as I am to you. I am encouraging us to remember that writing is something to take the long view over, developing ourselves into the kind of writers that readers can trust for openness that isn’t just sensationalism—and for quality that will be worth their continued time, attention, and dollars.

What’s your plan for doing so?

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Guest Post.

L.L. Barkat

L.L. Barkat is the author of six books, including Love, Etc: Poems of Love, Laughter, Longing & Loss; The Novelist: A Novella; and Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing (twice named a Best Book of 2011). Her poems have appeared at Best American Poetry, VQR, NPR, and Every Day Poems. She is the founder of T.S. Poetry Press and Managing Editor of Tweetspeak Poetry.

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24 Comments on "On Being a Writer With Skin in the Game"

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Shirley Showalter

Beautiful essay. Chiseled. Defined. Like you’ve taken your skin to the gym. 🙂

Terri Rochenski

Interesting post! I’ve been thinking on this very thing. An historical romance writer, I feel pressured to add TMI in the love scenes. Yes, I enjoy a good erotic tale on occasion, but I won’t write it. My stories are sweet – with just enough heat to satisfy the ‘Less is more’ readers. There’s definitely a fine line, one we need to tread & choose with careful thought.

Darrelyn Saloom

Enjoyed this post, Laura. I am working on a collection of memoir essays from childhood, and my plan is to be honest and to always come from a place of love when I write about adults who (in retrospect) were just battling their own demons. What is coming out on the page is humorous, which is how I dealt with the tough parts of childhood. Through writing, I’m back in touch with myself as a child. So erotica is not a conundrum. But that is my plan for this project.

SimplyDarlene

In your poem, my first thought was of a candy cane.. and a licker, rather than a stripper. But since we read poems slanted through our vantage points, stripping the wrapper off a piece of candy leaves it vulnerable for me.

Ah. You don’t just tell us, you engage us with those pointed, simple questions.

I need to think some before I answer.

Elizabeth
This is an important discussion and these are important questions. Hmmm, I am thinking this. I discussed with a writer friend over lunch some of these same questions during which I confessed — I do not like to be herded and I do not herd well. I like to arrive at conclusions based on my own timing, life experiences and head and heart. That said I want the writer to show and tell and entice with lots of nuance. I crave beauty and story and freshness from writers and poets. Do not connect the dots for me, allow me enough… Read more »
philipparees
I was facing a similar dilemma last week, but not about erotica, but the ‘decency’ of writing about my mother which, in a way was also about myself and our uneasy complicated relationship which shaped everything, and mostly what I write about. I felt the issues had universal relevance but baulked at writing in the first person so chose the third. An interesting comment said using the third person made it more immediate and evocative. Somewhere in this decision there is a kernel to tease out, about revelation and declaration and the responsibility of the author to serve the claims… Read more »
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[…] Untitled Blue / via Flickr Today’s guest post is by author L.L. Barkat (@llbarkat). “Why don’t you like to talk about your writing?” I asked. “I mean, you’re not writing erotica or something, are you?  […]

Angie Dixon
Thanks, Jane. I’m very sensitive and protective of various aspects of my writing, as well. Some of it is just silly–like being embarrassed about how fast I write (well). I kind of feel like a freak in that instance. But other ways I’m closed about expressing myself include more personal things that I simply refuse to write about, and always have so refused. I have a regular argument with my best friend about whether I’m ever going to write about those things. My answer is always no, but you’ve made me think. Maybe there is something there that I not… Read more »
SimplyDarlene
Okay, L.L., I took your question literal. Here’s my response. My plan for being a writer worthy of the time, attention, and dollars of readers who trust me for stories told slant through the pen of Darlene is thus: 1. Learn and apply the bits ‘n pieces of my craft, be it non-fiction, fiction, interview, memoir, and/or poetry. 2. When life hardens and leans heavy against my pencil, I shall choose an option: one, write anyway – from the roots of the craft. Character. Plot. Passion. Emotion. Direction. Action. Outline. Drafts. Two, write any way – both, when I am… Read more »
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