For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #10: Everything You Always Wanted To Write About Sex *But Were Afraid To Try

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Heyo, friends! Did everyone have an over-abundance of fascinating conversations since last session’s Q & A & Q & A? In my day job as a design writer I ask a lot, a lot, a lot of questions, and I find that even in a less personal, more professional setting there are few things better than connecting with someone interesting who wants to—or is willing to—share their work and/or life. These opportunities are genuinely special, and will directly or tangentially enrich your writing as much as your person.

And now, for something completely different.

#10: Everything You Always Wanted To Write About Sex *But Were Afraid To Try

A few weeks ago I was eating lunch with a pal who, with little fanfare, announced his latest passion project. “I started writing a sexy novel,” he said. “I wrote 25 pages yesterday.” He’s been working on an entirely different book for quite a while now, setting daily goals and disciplining himself to get it done, and after this quick gear shift he had a magic touch and fingers that just would not stop. 25 pages in a single day?? C’mon! Such was, for him, the seductive power of getting caught up in naughty prose.

Now, to be immediately clear: writing erotica or romance is not inherently easier than any other genre. In fact, getting it right might just be one of the toughest literary challenges out there; both have been traditionally tabooed and stigmatized, oftentimes making them difficult subjects for both authors and readers to approach.

And, as such, it’s very, very easy to go horribly awry with this kind of text, aiming for lustful and ending up with laughable; “Argh” is used numerous times as climactic exclamation in 50 Shades of Grey, and last year marked the 20th anniversary of the Literary Review’s Bad Sex award, bestowed upon the most cringe-worthy stabs at fiction with an erotic edge.

Seeing as though this particular series is about experimentation, however, we’re going to give it a go. There’s nothing shameful about some harmlessly titillating trial-and-error from the comfort of our own laptop computers.

So let’s shake things up and get, you know—excited.

Y’all ready for this?


—Something to write with and on.

—Bring your imagination A-game.


Cast off your inhibitions like a flimsy negligee thrown to the floor in the heat of passion, and write about S E X. Bring your fantasies to life on the page. Write about your own experiences, experiences you wish you had, or experiences you’re definitely going to make happen somehow, someway, someday. Make it cheesy. Make it beautiful. Make it nasty. Be funny, be earnest, be out-and-out, shock-and-awe filthy. Use euphemisms. Direct body parts into ridiculous positions. Have characters touch and talk, or watch and stay silent.

Go on—make yourself blush. You might be surprised at how it affects your other writing.

Time commitment: 

—See if you can set aside an hour of dedicated time to go completely and utterly wild (though this just *might* be one where you lose track of the clock…).

Recommended Reading: 

I’ve got to admit that I’m new to this scene, but Flavorwire’s got a nice top ten of hot books–I’m particularly enamored of Neruda’s “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees” line…–and Ploughshares‘ very own Andrea Martucci has suggested smart, well-written romantica as a good place to kick things off.

As always, if you’re just joining us here, now’s a good time to catch up on the previous posts in the series.

#9: Q & A & Q & A ….

#8: Cut & Paste

#7: Show & Tell

#6: Stop, Look, and Listen

#5: Take a (Mindful) Break

#4: Go Big

#3: Letters

#2: Prompts

#1: Pencil on Paper

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