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.


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?

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