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Becoming a real writer

I knew I was destined to be a writer. But real writers don’t write sex toy review blogs. Or do they?

Me in a motel in 2002, on the bed writing in my journal.

I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote e.e. cummings quotes on the inside of my closet and on the rubber of my shoes; I spent my high school nights getting high on raspberry mochas and writing bad poetry. I amassed several awards and accolades when I was younger — one time I even attended an award show in New York City — but nothing meant more to me than this Golden Author Award bestowed upon me by my fifth grade teacher. While others received frivolous awards for being class clowns, I got a swanky pen — and this. It was proof: I was destined to be a writer.

I could’ve never predicted, though, that writing for me was going to be blogging, and that I was going to blog about sex.

Actually, that’s a lie. There were signs that I would both blog and document my sex life. I had a scandalous zine in the age of AOL. I had an online diary for years after that. I made my first website in the sixth grade, with many to follow. I loved Harriet the Spy and totally understood Harriet’s pain when her classmates read all the mean — yet true — things she’d written about them.

But real writers go off to grad school at Columbia and get published in literary journals and drink wine in rooms full of important people. They don’t write sex toy review blogs.

Right?

There is a way of telling stories. A red pen. A teacher to move it.
Instead you have hands, and a Light inside you, and Bones.
Instead you have ideas, which ricochet, and an anger that won’t sit still,
and dogs from outside which come to die in the quiet spots inside of you.
. . . There is a way of telling stories. They tell you it is not like this.

—Shira Erlichman, “How To Tell a Story

Star-shaped "Golden Author Award" from my fifth grade teacher.
Award from my fifth grade teacher.

As a kid, and especially as a teenager, I wrote constantly. During family trips you could always find me holed up somewhere with my journal, which I kept for 10 years. My love for coffee was borne out of needing an accompaniment to my typewriter clacking. In high school I was opinion editor of the newspaper, and my senior project was a book of my own fiction. I took writing classes at the local community college and distinctly remember the exhilaration I felt after my first day. It was where I belonged.

Then I went to college and took every writing course offered, including an independent study that I made up. Couched in academia, writing was different. I was less and less inspired as the years went on. I wasn’t 17 anymore, full of hormones and angst — the sort of fuel that makes writing great. I began to hate all the editing, all the second-guessing, all the character development and faux scenarios. My fiction and poetry had become rather soulless, and the writing process felt like a chore.

Notes from a journal entry about visiting a college professor after summer: "I go to Paul's office, hoping he won't ask me if I wrote during the summer. He doesn't; he asks if I want some tea."

After college graduation, I never did get the urge to write a poem or a short story. What I did get was the itch to work on blog posts. On the side, I had started up a little sex blog. I needed a distraction from Chaucer (did you know Middle English is really hard to read?), and reviewing sex toys gave me both orgasms and a casual writing outlet. I didn’t know a lot about sex toys, or reviewing for that matter, but I was learning and putting all my obscure CSS knowledge into action.

I loved what I was doing, but that didn’t mean it didn’t sting when I watched friends go off to get their master’s in writing. It hurt the 16-year-old girl perpetually holed up in the bookstore with Kurt Cobain’s Journals. The girl who once thought buying Writer’s Market was a solid decision. The girl who teachers swore would become a big shot writer someday. It felt like I had failed.

And on some days, it still does.

But when I actually thought about it, I was just clinging to my teenage vision of success as a writer. I didn’t want to go to a writing program at all — I’d spent enough damn time listening to classmates tell me to clarify my character’s motivations. I was not thrilled by the prospect of sending manuscripts everywhere only to be rejected constantly. Even if I did get published, even if I achieved marginal success, I wasn’t going to make much money from it.

Besides, was being published what I really wanted? Do I have some talent within me that is only visible if I write a short story Crazyhorse wants to print? It’s 2015 now. People read books on Kindles, newspapers on phones, and blogs on computers. Being published in the traditional sense is not the only way to be a viable writer.

Then what is? What is success, to me?

Writing at my tiny desk, with coffee and cat of course.

Success does not have an industry or an entrance exam. Success is being awesome at what you do. Success is being trusted, having people look to you for advice. Success is doing what you love and getting paid for it.

If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

Stephen King

It was freeing for me when I accepted that I cannot construct poems that could stop your heart with their beauty. I cannot create unforgettable characters and intriguing plot lines and deep, meaningful story arcs. Others have always done it better and they always will.

What I can do is write competently. I can organize sentences. I can express ideas. I can give my opinion clearly and do it in a way that will not put you to sleep. I adore sex toys, and now, seven years in, I know almost everything there is to know about them. I feel strongly that they can change people’s sex lives, and I believe in our right to utilize them without shame, stigma, or misinformation. I’ve spun a tiny silly blog into a profitable business.

Yearbook message to me from a great middle school teacher: "always bright, always differently driven and always more ahead — all the best and a pen that never stops are my wishes to you."

It has not been easy to accept that this is my medium and my subject matter. Sexuality scares people. Honesty when it comes to sexuality scares people. It can be hard to feel important in the world when you can’t even tell people what you do for a living because you don’t want to deal with their response. I get emails from my college about alumni honors banquets and know I will never be recognized at one. I emailed one of my professors to tell her about my blog and she said, “why can’t you keep doing all the supremely cool stuff you are doing AND grow your writing out?” I got an OkCupid message from an old high school classmate who desperately wanted to read my writing, but “not the dildo stuff.”

I’m just as bad. In my head there is a hierarchy, with stuffy books of poetry at the top, and review blogs near the bottom, and I can’t seem to shake it. Sexual shame was never instilled in me, but I still feel the weight of our culture’s denigration of sexuality. I feel the perceived disappointment of all my professors and mentors. In my darkest moments, when I get a truly venomous comment or see my friend’s latest Facebook update about her book’s progress, my mind goes down the same path.

I’m not a real writer. I couldn’t actually get published, so I resorted to writing on the internet. About my genitals no less. I’m no better than anyone with a Blogspot, perhaps less because I write about my vagina. This is not an achievement. I’m kidding myself.

In high school, with dreams.

I try to counter these thoughts with questions like, doesn’t sexuality matter? Discovering new forms of pleasure? Is this not a worthy pursuit, to help people with that? Doesn’t writing matter, in any form? Can’t we still marvel at a beautifully structured piece of writing, subject matter aside? Isn’t reviewing a respected form of public service? Hey, isn’t the internet important? Creating something out of thin air? Putting one’s self on display for the internet wolves? The difficulty of running a blog?

I remind myself that blogging — and blogging about sex — is the perfect encapsulation of everything I love: sex toys, writing, web design, photography, and egotism.

I always longed for people to read and appreciate my work. That’s why I had a zine, and an online diary, and friends who put up with me thrusting my journal in their faces. With blogging, it’s the same. I have a little fan base providing feedback and back-pats along the way.

Blogging is more immediate and colloquial than a book. It can evolve and change and I can edit old posts to pretend I never said anything idiotic. There’s no boss man or editor hovering above me telling me what to write. I can cuss as much as I goddamn want, or commit grave grammatical errors on purpose.

That’s why I love it. The readers. The catharsis. The blank white box where anything goes.

I know as a sex educator I’m supposed to say that the most rewarding part of my job is helping people… but that’s not what I live for. I write for the joy of it. I delight myself when I come up with something clever, or when I construct a post which flows so effortlessly it’s almost like I didn’t just spend hours moving the sentences around one by one. I live for the sound of my partner’s laugh as he reads one of my posts. I live for that fleeting moment of unbearable excitement when I feel like I’ve written something really, really good.

An art project of mine, using a line from an Anne Sexton poem: "my business is words."

The only happiness you have is writing something new, in the middle of the night, armpits damp, heart pounding, something no one has yet seen. You have only those brief, fragile, untested moments of exhilaration when you know: you are a genius.

―Lorrie Moore, “How to Become a Writer

Still, writing — the actual act of it — is not easy. I can insert links all day (that is, in fact, my preferred procrastination method), but getting myself to sit down and just write is always the hardest. I just spent all day cleaning a closet instead of finishing this, and you don’t want to know how long it’s been in my drafts. As it turns out, writing never became less hard. It simply became different.

There will always be a part of me who feels a divergence in my life, another path I could’ve taken but didn’t. The path everyone expected. The path expected. But then I think about how sometimes it seems like everything was leading to this. Diaries, journals, having gay rendezvous as a teenager, my parents yelling at me to stop spending every hour on the computer, getting turned on watching Undressed, teaching myself HTML instead of going outside for recess, feeling petrified of the expectation that I would submit my work to literary journals fruitlessly until the day I died…

Sappy, I know, but I think I was meant to be a blogger. And, yes, I was meant to write about sex.

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Comments

  1. God. This hit so close to home, even in a different way. I remember feeling the same way – I remember wanting to be a writer by the time I could hold a pen. Taught myself to read and write at three, always creating stories. I still have the first story that was praised by a teacher hanging on the wall. I thought I was going to be a professional writer. Then fanfiction happened, and now I’m 31 and I haven’t written an original story in a decade. And sometimes I still get people, well meaning friends, asking if I don’t want to “step it up”, change some names to an AU and publish it, and sometimes I feel I should. But the truth is I don’t want to. I just want to write my weird AUs about bassists being mermen and post them on the internet and make my friends scream at me because of a cliffhanger. Nothing more. And sometimes it’s hard to accept your lot in life when it’s an apartment you grew up imagining a mansion.

    But yes. I know that feeling and I also know you ARE right. You were meant to be a sex blogger. They say truly good writing is revealed in the moment it connects the reader and the writer. And you’ve connected with SO many people, made them laugh and moved them and changed their life. You are a writer, a damn good one. And I admire you a lot.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! Standing ovation! This is written so well, of course, and it really resonates. You’re doing really big things.

  3. You entertain and help people. That’s worth so much more than some stuffy poetry that you’re not even happy about writing.

    You have followers who adore you and fellow bloggers respect you and aspire to achieve what you have.

    You’re making money doing what you love.

    You are a success.

  4. who knows what wild path our lives can and will take? I don’t make any profit on my blog and yet I *love* writing for the fun of it. And sure, there are some days when I think it’s all crap…but writing because I love it…really LOVE it…eventually overcomes any “shame” or embarrassment about what I do ‘on the side’. And you know…you’ve guided *me* with your incredible knowledge of dildo’s, vibes, and assorted sex toys. Having never thought I would ever buy one of “those things” …my first purchase was a HUGE mistake. I had no idea about the harmful things that dildo’s could be made of…until one burned so much while I used it…and I found your blog and understood more. And good gawd you’re funny and snarky as hell while you speak the truth. I’m hoping that you’ll be proud of what you do…you may not get those college accolades–but who needs it, really? A real writer touches people. And you do that every day.

    nilla

  5. this is profoundly heartfelt and lovely. your contributions matter, and the information you normalize for people is progress to the max. thank you.

  6. This is probably my favorite post you’ve ever written. I identify with your story a lot as someone who has always loved to write/studied English in college/took tons of poetry classes, and as a fellow sex blogger. (And I also loved Harriet the Spy!) 🙂

    This is going to sound cheesy as hell, but you are my hero in life. Like, seriously. When I tell people I’m a blogger and people ask, yeah but can you actually make money doing that? Is that really a career? I point to you. You literally created a job for yourself. You created a name for yourself as THE sex toy blogger, the expert. You have no boss. No one gets to tell you what to write or what not to write. You are multi-talented, and you have a creation that is completely yours, a masterpiece combination of writing, design, photography, and personality. You turned something you started out doing as a hobby because you enjoyed it into a business. To me you are the definition of a successful artist and writer.

    And in addition to all of that, you’re doing it in an area that is taboo and needs someone like you most. You are giving people the permission to find pleasure for themselves and the means to find it by choosing the right sex toys and entertaining them in the process. You’re saving people the frustration of crappy (and maybe even dangerous) experiences with bad toys. Reviews are valid writing pieces, and yours are personal and brave and honest and extremely important.

    As cool as it would be to be a successful “mainstream” writer, you’ve found your calling, and your writing has affected so many people’s lives, including mine. That’s what it’s about.

    You are my e.e. cummings.

  7. Writing is hard. Writing well is very hard. I love the way you write and the things you write about. I think you’re brilliant 🙂

  8. “But real writers go off to grad school at Columbia and get published in literary journals and drink wine in rooms full of important people.

    Right?”

    Writers write.

    That’s all. That’s the one thing, the only thing.

    There’s a quote by Margaret Atwood that I love that feels relevant:

    “When you begin to write, you’re in love with the language, with the act of creation, with yourself partly; but as you go on, the writing–if you follow it–will take you places you never intended to go and show you things you would never otherwise have seen. I began as a profoundly apolitical writer, but then I began to do what all novelists and some poets do: I began to describe the world around me.”

    You’re doing that. You’re totally doing that.

    I’m writing a book (slowly, so slowly) right now, and you’re writing a blog I love to read, but if we sat down to talk about writing, what we would share is the joy of the craft and the passion we try to funnel into the words we string together, regardless of subject matter.

    …and also the fact that we write, even on the days when it feels like you’re just smashing your head against your desk in futility. Especially that, in fact.

    Because writers write.

  9. Oh My god…. ! That was really very great……… After reading this I have a lot to say but I am unable to explain that all, I am too excited to read more from your blog…___ Adelaide Escorts

  10. You own blogging. Own the shit out of it.

    I completely understand falling out of love with the idea of being a “WRITER” (all caps, since it’s damn intimidating)

    I was supposed to be some amazing writer/poet/artist… But all of the schooling we feel is necessary to make our art legitimate made me hate it. I would refuse to submit revisions, and instead would just submit my same work over and over, every time they called for a new version.

    The same prof who would subtract marks for not doing revisions is the same prof who had two of my essays included in the next version of the textbook. So I don’t understand it at all.

    I’m glad you kept your love of writing. Never let it go.

  11. (i do not know what it is about you that closes
    and opens;only something in me understands
    the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
    nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands – e.e. cummings

  12. I agree that this is my favorite thing you’ve written. Perhaps because I read so much of myself in it. I agree with everything Penny said. Never sell yourself short.

  13. As someone who was also going to totally be The Most Talented Writer Ever but took the road less traveled (personally i went for something COMPLETELY different–I became a zookeeper), I really love this post.

    I have totally thought of blogging about zookeeping, but I haven’t figured out a way to do it without violating the crap out of every nondisclosure agreement I’ve ever signed (even if I don’t name names, there are only so many specialty zoos in the part of the country I live in–and by that i mean only ONE–I doubt I could really stay anonymous).

  14. This is so powerful, and hits so close to home. Like Penny and many below, you were totally my inspiration for creating my own blog (despite the fact that I am obsessed with pink which may be the bane of your existence). You inspired me that writing – and specifically sex blogging – sex educating – could be a career.

    Your work – and all of our work – is so much more than blogging, writing, or reviewing sex toys. We are sex educators. We are public health advocates. We are pleasure and sex-positivity advocates!

    We might not get paid well. We might not feel comfortable sharing our work with people we meet. We definitely get a lot of criticism for working in the sex industry. But we do get to make a change in other people’s lives. We get to be a positive voice that tells them their sexuality is OK. Scratch that, it’s more than OK. It’s fabulous & natural!

    In general, I think the conversation about sex is changing – it’s being talked about more openly, honestly, and positively than ever – it’s becoming less and less taboo – and we are all a part of that. That’s something to be proud of!

  15. I agree, and I also see myself in so much of what you’ve written. Even now trying to write non-blog work I find myself halting, editing, criticizing every little thing I write to pieces. That writing oozes like blood. Blog posts may be hard to sit down and get started writing, but once the gates open it flows like a head wound.

    Most “writers” (and even more non-writers) may not take bloggers seriously, but what bloggers do IS a craft in and of itself. Some published writers can’t run successful blogs. It takes talent to capture an audience.

    Education, entertainment – they are worthy causes. Your writing is valid and important.

  16. And now it all makes sense. Great backstory post. I am selfishly very glad you chose the path you did.

    I’m in community college currently — have been on and off for ~6 years — but finally found my niche last fall when I took the magazine production class and got to write a feature article on a topic close to my heart. (I’ve always dearly loved reading, and enjoyed writing non-fictiony things, but didn’t consider a writing career because I thought that meant writing fiction, which I can’t do.) And now, at 40, once I’ve completed one summer class and four more classes in the fall, I’ll have an AA in Journalism and be ready to transfer to a four-year, if I choose. If I haven’t fallen into a decent writing job by then.

    But I also have a very long-running fascination with all things sexual and with human psychology. And a long-running love of birds — budgies, specifically — and a more recent love of helping to rescue and foster them.

    Now, if I could only find a way to incorporate all of those things into one job!

  17. A zookeeper! Very cool job! And now I’m SO curious about these nondisclosure agreements. What would a zoo need with nondisclosure agreements? :/

  18. I don’t remember reading this or commenting before, but I’m glad I had a chance to reread it. I needed to hear it. Not as a blogger but as a professional gets-paid-to-write blogger. Thanks!

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