I love writing porn.
It’s satisfying professionally as a writer, and it’s oddly satisfying sexually as well. The act of taking a sexual fantasy and fleshing it out in words, as clearly and vividly as I can, can take a fleeting bit of whack-off imagery and solidify it, deepen it, turn it into something I care about and am proud to share with the world. (And, not coincidentally, it can take a fleeting bit of whack-off imagery and turn it into something I can whack off to for months or years.)
So why don’t I do more of it? I hear you cry. (Or more accurately, I delude myself into thinking you care about.)
Two reasons — which are really kind of the same reason.
First: For me, writing a porn story takes a huge amount of time. I love doing it, but it doesn’t come naturally to me the way non-fiction does. I can churn out a first draft of a review or a short essay in an afternoon. A draft that I’m reasonably happy with, even.
With fiction, I struggle with it a lot more. It doesn’t come pouring out of my brain and through my fingers the way non-fiction does. It takes weeks, sometime months, just to finish a first draft. Then I have to set it aside for a while, so I can re-read it with some distance and perspective — and then it takes still more weeks, maybe months, to revise it. Because it’s never, ever right the first time. Not even close. It takes more time than non-fiction by an order of magnitude or two. (And as a rule, it’s more emotionally draining than non-fiction as well. Also by an order of magnitude.)
All of which brings me to Reason Number Two: It pays for shit.
It’s a rare publisher or editor that will pay more than $100 for a short piece of erotic fiction. And even $100 is somewhat unusual. $50 is more common. If I’m lucky I can get a story reprinted, and that’ll bring in a little more money for it. But with a couple of very rare exceptions, writing porn fiction pays rather less well per hour than running a lemonade stand.
Now, it’s not like sexual non-fiction pays a whole lot better. It pays somewhat better, but not a lot. But because I can turn it around so much more quickly, I don’t mind nearly as much. It’s much harder to convince myself to devote the enormous amount of time and emotional energy to fiction that it demands — when I know the payoff is going to be so shitty.
That sounds pretty hardassed, I know. But it’s not just about the cold financial cost-benefit analysis. If this were just about the cold financial cost-benefit analysis, I wouldn’t be a freelance writer in the first place.
It’s also about the emotional cost-benefit analysis.
It’s very, very disheartening to spend months on a piece of writing, to devote an enormous amount of time and care turning a treasured and intensely personal fantasy into a story that other people will not only get off on but care about… and then get paid fifty bucks for it. It’s disheartening — and in fact, it’s kind of insulting. I know that the publishers and editors don’t mean any insult; I understand the economic realities of the publishing world. But when the primary external marker of your work’s worth to the world is consistently telling you, “Eh, whatever,” it’s hard not to feel like the whole thing is an exercise in futility.
So except in those rare cases when the cost-benefit analysis actually does make some sort of sense, I pretty much only write porn fiction when I feel intensely compelled to do so. I have to feel like the personal, non-financial payoff will be worth it. I have to feel that this will be a fantasy that’s worth fleshing out: that this set of images will be worth solidifying, that these characters are ones I want to understand better, that this is a sexual concept I really want to dig into and get a grasp on.
And I have to feel that this is a fantasy I’m going to want to whack off to for months or years.
Which just doesn’t happen very often.