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The Writer As Prostitute

I'm not sure when I became a prostitute. I doubt it happened all at once, that one day I shared myself for love and the next I could only get it up for the threat of money. At first, I did it because I enjoyed myself and figured there was nothing wrong with making money from something I enjoyed.

Once you start writing for money, it is always something you know you could do. Why bother doing it for free after that? It is the same act at its core, the same mechanics, almost the same motion of your hands. Inside, you know the difference, but you never let it show, worried truth will affect the bottom line.

I apologize for using sex workers as my analogy - they have it hard enough without comparisons to authors - but sex is the closest drive for how I used to feel about writing: Primal, instinctual urges that have dictated my interactions; Cornerstones of my personality; Truths so evident that they go barely questioned. I have few illusions. I would not want to be a sex worker. I don't have it in me to commit those acts and can do nothing but applaud people who choose to. I could barely handle customer service in a museum and that only involved bodily fluids when a kid peed in the bubble machine. Though the flesh might accede, the spirit would kill me. Writing is much easier, outside my analogy, but it is barely respected more.

I rarely feel the exhilaration of writing anymore, as I would imagine a sex worker gains a more complicated relationship with the physical act of coitus. I write now because I haven't written enough. Had I, my books would sell themselves and I wouldn't have to debase myself for your amusement. I wouldn't have to offer you freebies so you might actually commit to a book. My father once said that I use words like whores, but I am the one street walking. My words get to hide cozy in their books.

Extending the metaphor toward its breaking point, that makes agents pimps taking their cut, but you cannot hustle in the rich sections of town if you don't have one. Most Johns won't look at you twice, even if you can get in front of them. Until I have someone who knows someone vouching for my quality, even if that quality is evident in my work, I am as good as a nobody. I am standing nearly naked on frozen, 3am streets while pampered escorts roll their eyes in $1000 a night hotels uptown.

If media is to be believed, successful sex workers get their money upfront and few people outside the business openly suggest that they don't deserve to be paid. Writers can pen stories that are read and enjoyed, but not see a penny. Amazon goes so far as to accept returns on fully read ebooks from people who don't see authors' efforts as worth a dollar. For their many problems, few people expect to get full reimbursements on their blowjobs - if anything, returning them costs extra.

The world contains few presumptive prostitutes, though perhaps more acting ones than we would like to admit to ourselves (What else can we call the sex-for-comfort scheme that forms the bedrock of many romantic relationships?). Everyone believes they have a book in them, so why are you so special that you got your book out of you and published? What makes you think you deserve to be paid for your work? Lay people may practice both writing and sex when the mood strikes them and indulge a naughty, secret fantasy of turning pro, but these daydreams have no bearing on how the wider world should treat the profession. The reality behind their reverie would startle them awake.

We are given a glamorous dichotomy. Either the writer is unfathomably well off - the Julia Roberts at the end of Pretty Woman, the escort pulling in your weekly paycheck an hour - or they are strung out and toothless, offering verse for pocket change. Most actually in the business are doing neither, but suffer from both misconceptions.

I miss having the passion, writing out of delighted necessity rather than an awareness of what might earn me a few dollars. Writing has been hell on my self-esteem. I can hardly listen to someone commenting on my work without worrying my toe into the pavement. I want to put off writing until I cannot stand to do otherwise, but I cannot again be so leisurely in my effort. If I waited for the mood to strike, I would never again publish and I need to if just to chase the demon that will one day let me feel I have worked enough for you, my reticent potential reader.

Can sex workers watch pornography without envying and ridiculing the action? Can they enjoy any part of it or are they divorced and analytical of how they could have done it better if the right person had named the right price? I haven't enjoyed a book in many years and I am no slouch about gobbling them up, but they are all about how I don't work enough and I will never be as cleverly as Catherynne M. Valente or tell a story as fine as Neil Gaiman.

I don't know how to find the ache when I need to treat my love as a business. Maybe I don't get the luxury of again relaxing into writing. I will act to each piece as though I only worked out of a consuming desire. Faking climaxes comes with the territory.


Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.


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