Sometimes, I sit down and actively think about story ideas to pitch, and sometimes they come to me when I am doing something else. I had one recently that's about, well, my sex life with my boyfriend, and I do think it would make an interesting essay, but before I go forward, I basically feel obligated to go to him and ask, "Hey, are you okay with me writing about ___?" In this case, it's not about anything sexually "out there" in any way, but it's still personal. I'm aware of that, and I'm also aware that he's much more private than I am. If he had to pick, I'm sure he would prefer I not write about things that involve him.
Since I wrote this essay for The Frisky, I've been thinking about that ongoing conundrum, and I realized that he's not the target audience for a piece like that. Largely, women are, in my mind. This other idea i have isn't as gender-related, but more about what we prioritize when it comes to sex, what surprises me about how sex plays out in our relationship, and other observations that are indeed personal but that I think say larger things about our culture's take on sex. I always try to give a little more context than just me me me.
On the other hand, part of why I gravitate toward first person writing in my own work and reading material is that I know what happened, for me, because I was there. I'm not saying I have a perfect memory or that what I write on day 1 would be the same as on day 11 or that my take is the only take, but nobody can ever tell me I didn't feel something or that my feelings are "wrong." By definition, they can't be wrong. Of course, we can all be wrong about lots of things, and I learn from writing about some of the most intimate aspects of my life. Sometimes that's actually how I handle interpersonal communication too. It's something I'm working on, the talking thing, but it's not always my first or best way of getting my point across. I get flustered and frustrated and lose track of what I wanted to say. When I'm writing, I have more time and more ways to figure out what I actually think and feel.
It's tricky, though, to write about your own life and maintain personal relationships. Here's what Mandy Stadtmiller has to say about writing about sex and dating over at xoJane:
There is a dirty little secret about writing about your dating life. (And I've heard it from several other much more mainstream girl sexytime writers than me, including ones who are currently on Bravo.) What people don't tell you about doing the whole personal memoir thing -- or "oversharing" if you want to be a reductive hipster dick about it -- is that many dudes live in fear of being written about. Like, when I had a dating column at The New York Post, I started showing the boyfriend I had at the time the columns that I would write three months into dating him. He is un-Google-able with me. As is my ex-husband. As are the majority of men I've dated. Aren't I good girl? I keep secrets. Good job, Mandy.It's a puzzle I am constantly trying to find new ways to solve, and it's not one that's going to go away, not because I make my living by writing these days, but because even if I weren't getting paid, I would feel that need to make sense of my life in words, and share those words with other people. It's one of the reasons I loved CatalystCon, because people there get that, inherently, but also that whether you have sex as part of your job or incorporate sex in some other way, you also have a private life, feelings, thoughts, that are separate from what we put out into the world. That goes for us writers too. I'm half joking when I call myself an oversharer, because whose decision is it what's "over" in "overhsare?" For me, most of the time, it's more about survival and self-knowledge.