Saturday, April 4, 2009

Beginner's Ball #3 - Leave it all on the floor!

The Beginner's Ball is a blog series by writers relatively new to the world of erotica--Erobintica, Marina St. Clare, and myself so far. We'd love to have others join in our dance. If you'd like to take your turn hosting, please contact one of us. Check out the first and second in the series, and please join us in the comments.

Tango Dancing
Originally uploaded by lrargerich

I've started my erotica journey by bringing to fictional life some of my tried-and-true fantasies, and I assume I'm not alone. What sparked your first few stories? Were there any that just came out of the blue, or were they based on scenarios that already had airtime on your inner broadcasts?

A bit of advice to first-time novelists that I heard a long time ago has stuck with me: don't hoard any ideas for the future. If it fits, put it in. When you're writing a second novel, you will have a stock of new ideas.

But with erotica specifically I have worried about what happens when I've used up my personal fantasy list. In other areas, I do have faith that there's an eternal spring from which fresh ideas constantly well up. There's no reason that erotica should be different, and yet emotionally I'm a little stuck there. Perhaps it's because the wellsprings of sexuality feel very personal and quirky to me.

Yet surprise surprise, once I start writing a story, of course my characters take on a life of their own. My protagonists aren't me, and they show me what they want to do and how, which doesn't necessarily match up with what I would choose.

I called this post "leave it all on the floor," but what sparked the idea was actually a foot race. I'm a very slow runner, so I'm just competing with myself, but it's important to me to get to the finish line with only enough left for that last sprint--"leave it all on the road." Every endeavor must have that concept. You put everything you have into the task at hand. Then you rest and rebuild. As you do that over and over, you build and strengthen your capacities--and you never have to worry "if only I had done a little more." Leave it all there--whether it's on the ballroom floor, the road, or the page.

It's one of the eternal mysteries--where do ideas come from? How is it that countless millions of words have been put together since we developed language, and yet fresh combinations are found every day, every hour?

I don't know, but I do believe that wellspring will never fail. Each of us has access to our own spring, choked as it may get with the weeds and tares of life. I trust that more ideas will come if I let them.

New writers, do you have fears like these? Experienced hands, have you been through fallow periods? How did you emerge from them?


Aisling Weaver said...

Good Morning Helia :)

What an interesting topic!

I started writing from my own head long ago, but my return to erotica has found me well outside my own experience for certain. And it's, well, wonderfully challenging trying to write about something I've never had any experience with.

My ideas come to me as a visual image that seems to be coded with all the background I need to write the tale. (If you like the show Chuck - think intersect ;) ).

I currently have a story being written as a flash serial, and that was the same - a split image of two women on the phone, a man in bed behind one. Suddenly the idea was there, and I HAD to write it.

I've never worried about my ideas drying up. I get insomnia if I don't write enough as the ideas plague my dreams. But getting them to the page in a way that doesn't seem repetive - sometimes that's the challenge I worry about!

It's early, so I hope I made sense through all of that...haven't even had the first cup of coffee yet!

I look forward to reading everyone else's thoughts!


Marina said...

Hi Helia! Great post!

For me, story ideas usually start with some small thing I've seen or done, or something someone has said. But, then, things invariably end up going off in a different direction. I've yet to start a story and know exactly how it's going to end. Something inspires me and I just start writing something - anything! - about that kernel of an idea. Then, there's usually some point at which, suddenly, the light bulb goes on and I realize, oh, that's where this is supposed to go! Then, the flood gates open and every other detail comes rushing in. Nothing else matters and I block out everything else around me - I have to write it and get it out.

Then, after it's done and I look back on what I've written, I usually think, "Where the heck did that come from? Did I do that?" Does that happen to any of you?

I do understand what JM is saying, "...erotica has found me well outside my own experience for certain." That's what's wonderful about fantasy and imagination - I can get completely lost in creating certain scenes, imagining what they'd be like, and pondering all of the details.

There's an infinite universe of ideas. I think the key is writing about things that interest you and are meaningful to you, so that the personal and emotional aspects come across as genuine to the reader.

Unknown said...

I'm not worried about running out of ideas.My major concern is that when I'm writing about something that I have not experienced that it will lack authenticity. Right now my writing skirts along the edge of the taboo. I think eventually this is going to require some research (waggles eyebrows).

Erobintica said...

Well, by the time I finish this comment it'll be afternoon - and I can't vouch for how coherent it will be. ;-)

My first erotic story that I remember writing was ages ago and it was sparked by a certain place and a fantasy that place sparked. I wrote it in a journal and forgot about it for years. Then I wrote a few more, and a few years later some more. Always dipping my toes in and pulling back for some reason. Maybe afraid of the riptide?

My "inner broadcasts" were/are ones I actually have had trouble writing down. Maybe because what happens is they morph in the writing. Not because I'm controlling them, but more that they're controlling themselves. My only hope is that will mean that even if I write the same fantasy many times, it will become different stories.

Another fear I had (luckily no longer hold it) is that if I wrote down a fantasy - it would stop working for me - that once outside my head it would be lost to me. Not sure that makes sense.

I think I'll return later when I'm wider awake. ;-)

Anonymous said...

As a beginner writer, I find myself getting caught up in using actual experiences and writing around them. I find it hard to write about something I don't know to be true. I suppose recognizing the problem is the first step to fixing it. Perhaps fear of letting go and fear of what I'll find is part of it. You all have given me a lot to think about.


Funny, my word verification is "reell"

Helia Brookes said...

Great comments, everyone!

Jennifer, I love the visual images coded with the background you need--it's a little bit like that for me, but my hardest challenge is coming up with the words that capture the images. I never quite get there--it's like trying to write down a dream, the very act of assigning words blurs the memory for me.

Marina, what an evocative description of your process. I envy you--it sounds much less Sisyphean than my own. :*)

T. Elle and Cerulean, yes, I worry about that too! As a reader, the slightest error, if it's something I know about, breaks the "vivid and continuous dream" instantly. Research sounds like a good idea--and a good time!

Robin, thanks for identifying that worry about "breaking" the fantasy, which was lurking unidentified in the back of my mind. Reassuring to hear it's not true. And that's an excellent point (also reassuring!) that the fantasy morphing as you write it actually can spawn new stories, new angles.

Donna said...

Thanks, Helia--this is a very rich and inspiring post! So I've been writing erotica for twelve years and I've been through floods and droughts. When I first started the words poured out. At other times, when intense things were going on in my life, I needed to take a break, but discovered that when I started again, ideas had been simmering and there was a new outpouring of stories. I'd say don't be afraid of the droughts--they toughen you and make you more interesting as a writer. You appreciate the creative process more.

Each story does deserve your best, plus you can reuse material in different ways, so there really is no reason to hold back. One of the interesting things of have many stories written is to look back and analyze your own patterns. It's okay to repeat yourself. Joyce Carol Oates does. John Updike did. Shakespeare, too. All of those twin stories, right?

As for moving beyond your personal fantasies, from my very first story, I was doing that to some degree. Then my real life followed my fiction! What brings authenticity is whether the scenes turn you on, whether they spark your imagination and libido. That comes through to the reader. Although an authentic detail or two is a good touch--but I get that from reading sometime!

I am rattling on here, aren't I? But just quickly, my ideas do come from my own fantasies sometimes, but these are much changed in the final version of the story because as Marina described it, the story starts as a moment or mystery or image and then takes on a life of its own. Yeah, sometimes I'm not sure where it came from. It's as if I'm channeling my characters' voices or something. But it's cool. I've had characters refuse to do things I'd planned for them, and they're always right in the end.

Finally--yes, I'm almost done!--I know I keep saying this, but I still feel like a beginner every time I write a new story. I remember that is was different when I first started. Then my fears had more to do with "am I good enough?" Now it's "will I just repeat myself? have I lost it?" But I do have to keep reminding myself about the basics of a good story and the courage I need to go for it and run the good race.

Not sure if any of this makes sense :-). But thank you for a thought-provoking topic!

Craig Sorensen said...

Good post, Helia!

I've been creating stories in my head as long as I can remember. And they took on erotic content as soon as I took a shining to the ladies.

Early on, I guess it was really just about creating characters, making it into stories came later. But I digress, sort of.

I write from a combination of reality and fantasy. I think a measure of reality grounds the work, gives me an anchor to hold onto as I reach into the vast unknown.

The ideas can come from anyplace. Mowing the lawn, washing dishes, listening to music, at work and etc.

To Donna's point, as I've written more and more, I allow the stories to play out in my head; sometimes the characters don't go where I expect them. For me that is key: let the story breathe and don't be afraid to follow the muse. Don't try to force things. But sometimes I'll write a story and have this scene I love, which it doesn't fit the final edit. I used to really labor over those, and not want to "waste" a good scene.

If it doesn't feel right, pull it out, and keep it in an idea file.

Jeremy Edwards said...

Very thought provoking post—and comments! You give good blog, HB. ; )

I can relate to a lot of what has been said here: wondering where the next idea will come from (and thank you, themed anthology editors, for helping with that!); endeavoring not to be too repetitive, either in the overall situations or the specific descriptions; yet recognizing, as Donna points out, that to some extent patterns of repetition are fine (and good point, Robin, about the potential for one root idea to blossom into various different explorations). I like the idea of having some pairs or groups of stories in my catalog in which a similar scenario plays out in different ways. And, yes, there's that amazing experience of getting into the writing of a story and suddenly finding that a scene has taken on its own momentum and you, as the writer, are rushing to keep up with a flow of dialogue and action that you hadn't consciously planned for.

Helia Brookes said...

More great comments!

Donna, it's so great to hear your experiences. Twelve years is amazing--so your reassuring words carry serious weight for me. It all made a lot of sense.

Craig, it's so cool to think of you creating stories in your head before you were even old enough to "take a shine to the ladies." My head was full of stories from books, but I don't remember creating my own, really. In fact, as a young adult I got custody of a picture book I created very soon after I learned to write. It was cool to see it again, until I found the actual picture book from which I had completely PLAGIARIZED it! Maybe I had copied it on purpose, but if so that memory was totally gone. ;*)

And thanks, Jeremy--you're one of my biggest reasons for believing that creativity never runs out!

Erobintica said...

These are some fascinating comments. Donna, we love to hear you rattle on. Hehe.

What's really wonderful for me is to see that everyone else talks about how sometimes the story just seems to go off and take on a life of it's own. I'm fairly new at seriously writing fiction - I've done it off and on for decades and decades. But I've never "studied" it or anything - so I think that sometimes I worry that I'm not ... "legit" for lack of a better term. It's so good to read other writers talk about what it's like and to see that yes, that's how it is for me too.

So, thanks.

Donna said...

Yes, great comments! I love to hear about others' views and experiences.

I just wanted to say re: Robin's comment that taking a class does not confer legitimacy. Reading and actually writing and editing your drafts with serious intent is the only diploma you need. I say this because I have had a few encouraging teachers, but in most of my five or so creative writing classes, I've felt distracted by the teacher's agenda and the class politics. I'll never take another class again. Well, never say never, but it's unlikely. That said, Susie Bright's online erotica class WAS good, but by no means necessary and I was already decently published when I took it. Emerald would probably have a lot to say about her MFA program in this regard :-).
The best a teacher can do is hurry along what's already inside of you just a wee bit. Just mho!

EllaRegina said...

Yet surprise surprise, once I start writing a story, of course my characters take on a life of their own. My protagonists aren't me, and they show me what they want to do and how, which doesn't necessarily match up with what I would choose.

That's really the heart of the matter, I think, and yes, there are fallow periods where you think your ideas are gone, whatever "magic" you possessed has run off to join the circus, that you will never be able to use words ever again. And then maybe you take a rest or you have a pity party, and then, out of thin air sometimes, as Marina said: the proverbial lightbulb turns itself on and away you go.

It's important to remind yourself of these waves, both of emotion and creativity, so that you can learn to keep on riding and not let the wayward horse fling you to the ground.

Excellent post, Helia! I'll come back to say more when my brain cells are fully in place.

Jeremy Edwards said...

whatever "magic" you possessed has run off to join the circus

Great image!

Helia Brookes said...

I have a co-worker who says she's leaving to join the circus whenever she gets overwhelmed. A tempting thought for many, clearly! :*)

Emerald said...

I really am so sorry to be so late here! While we did have wireless access in the motel in which we stayed this weekend, the time I had to be online was so limited that I barely had a chance to pop in on the Blow Hard Tour Saturday and Sunday and am now just getting around to catching up.

I really like that offering to new novelists (and novelists in general, it seems to me). What an interesting point. I love what Donna said about each story deserving our best and there being no reason to hold back. This seems such an astute point to me because, for me at least, at the time I’m writing a story I didn’t necessarily know what I was writing was going to be there in advance, so it seems to make little sense to feel concerned about wanting to know such things beforehand. And yet it has been known to feel so compelling to do so anyway!

Interestingly, one of the things Dr. Dick asked me in our interview a few weeks ago was whether it felt possible to me to eroticize something in a story I didn’t personally find sexy or a turn-on. The answer I gave was yes, if my character finds it sexy. I’m not writing myself, and it happened that in a story I wrote about a year ago a character surprised me by wanting something and being turned on by something that I myself don’t feel consciously that I am. Yet I was writing her, so it just came out. As many of you have said, the characters and story may know better than I consciously do at the time I’m writing, and I aim to write what is coming through me as will serve.

Yes, Marina, that “where did that come from? Did I do that?” thing has definitely happened to me — I actually have appreciated it as a possible indicator that the above occurred.

And yes, Robin, that fear makes sense to me — that upon writing it the fantasy might stop “working” for you. I don’t know if I had ever quite thought of it that way, but it unquestionably made sense as soon as I read it. It is cool to hear that hasn’t been your experience! :)

That’s so funny, as soon as I started reading Donna’s comment in response to Robin’s, I did indeed want to offer some of the perspective in me even before I saw Donna so charmingly mention it. :) I participated in an MFA program for a year; I did not finish it. It is not my intention at all to denigrate MFA programs when I talk about this, and I find it delightful that for some people they work so well. For me, it did not. The combination of the formality and structure in (and necessary for, admittedly) academia and the creative realm felt jarring to me in a way that I eventually simply felt unable to ignore or integrate. I had one incredible, incredible professor that I adore indescribably who said once, “The only thing we can do, including the professors, is give our own responses. The value of a program like this may just be being in that environment and having access to that on a repeated/regular basis for a while.” (That is a paraphrase.) I adored that he said that and feel no doubt whatsoever that it was entirely sincere in him. The irony I see is that, as I mentioned above, academia virtually by definition/existence must have some structure and standards, and even if the perspective in the professor(s) is that which he expressed, this structure must come into play somewhere. And again, eventually its existence at all in connection with the creative process and what I have seen to be its ultimate subjectivity so did not resonate with me that I felt the unignorable (I don’t think that’s a word, speaking of structure, heh) urge to leave the program.

Again, sorry to be so late, and thank you for a (not surprisingly) very thoughtful and interesting post, Helia! Thanks also for all the similarly thoughtful comments.