I love writing about desire between women. It’s a delight and also a privilege – how many women throughout history ever got a chance to do that? Living at a time when silly, joyful lesbian smut can be shared between writers and readers around the globe is pretty remarkable.
But there are a few things I wish I’d known first about taking the plunge on writing erotic lesbian fiction.
#1 Buy a thesaurus
When you start writing a book with multiple erotic scenarios, you learn what happens when the boundaries of the human body meet the limitations of the English language. Basically, there are certain things you’ll need to describe over and over, and only so many ways of doing that.
This leads to some strange dilemmas.
Have I written “quivering” already? Is there a metaphor for buttock cleavage that won’t look ridiculous? Should I spell out a character’s moaning – “Oooooh” – or is that the least attractive thing ever? Where do I stand on the word “tits”? Is it playful and fun, or immature and sexist? Oh no, did I just write “quivering” again? And is “engorged” okay, or just a little bit gross?
Writing sexual fiction is hard, but it’s made me a more forgiving reader. Sure, we’ve all read erotica that made us cringe – personally, I would ban the use of the word “teat” in any context other than animal rearing. And sex writing that is misogynist, racist, and so on is not okay. But nowadays I do have more sympathy for a fellow writer who is striving to describe damp underwear for the fourth time in one page.
#2 Whose nipples are these?
When my excellent editor warned me “Avoid ambiguity over whose nipples are stiffening”, I realised this lesbian writing caper wasn’t going to be easy.
Writing intimate scenes between characters of the same sex can be tricky. Is the “she” pronoun confusing in this sentence? Should I use their names more, for clarity? Is it ever okay to mix things up by referring to characters as “the brunette” or “the older woman”? (“No” –Ed.)
But maybe this is just a sign of how we’ve been steered away from reading and writing about women. After all, as someone pointed out, most people manage to read books by Tolkien and Le Carré without getting confused about which of their bazillion male characters are doing what.
Did Tolkien ever struggle with nipple confusion?
#3 “It’s lesbian erotica, not porn!”
This is a laughable thing to get prissy about. But I will correct people because it’s true; there’s a huge difference. Porn is actual humans having actual sex in front of cameras. Erotica is me sitting in my pyjamas, surrounded by coffee cups, with a cat asleep on my feet, trying to think of synonyms for “moist”. Sorry, I hope that didn’t kill anyone’s mood.
Also, erotic fiction, for all its many problems, has a strong history of being created by and for women. Porn? Not so much.
#4 When play becomes work: the Sawyer Effect
Sharing my writing with other people is a dream come true. But something happens when you get contracted to do an activity that used to be a fun personal indulgence. Suddenly your hobby becomes your job. You find yourself scowling over commas and grumbling about having to write more cunnilingus: “Come on, the sun is shining! I want to go for a walk! And isn’t it time I cleaned the bathroom?”
So, take time out. Buy some new books. Re-read old favourites. Talk to friends about the authors you love. And write other stuff: poetry, fanfic, blog rants, ideas for novels. Remind yourself of why you did this in the first place.
#5 Should I tell Grandma that I write lesbian smut?
Who knew there would be a second coming out: as a writer of naughty stories? It’s a thrill to learn you’re going to be published … until it occurs to you that your boss might read your book.
Do I want my workmates to know I’ve written a story about flagellating nuns? Can I brag about My Book to my straight friends, or will it get too awkward when they find out about the 1930s dildo tale? And should I tell my parents?
Some writers of lesbian erotica are out and proud to everyone; some keep it a close secret. I’m still feeling my way, if you’ll pardon the expression. But I’m glad and grateful for the friendship and support of other lesbian and bi women, who encouraged me to write, reminded me that giving voice to our desires is both delicious and important, and didn’t make me feel weird at all.
Copyright picture above: depositphotos.com/jrp_studio
Jess Lea lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she started out as an academic before working in the community sector. She loves vintage crime fiction, the writings of funny women, and lesbian books of all sorts. Jess can be found writing in cafes, in parks, and in her pyjamas at home when she should be at work. Jess Lea’s first book, The Taste of Her, the first of a two-part collection of erotic short stories, has just been published with Ylva.