Cover Photo: This photograph is focused on two wooden drawing mannequins, which are standing and embracing. The background is black and the photo is in black and white with only the figurines illuminated
Photograph by Gaelle Marcel/Unsplash

On Craft, Rhythm, and Writing About Sex

In the first installment of her new column, Megan Pillow shows us how some of the best examples of contemporary writing craft can be found in writing about sex.

This is the first installment of Megan Pillow’s column FUCK ME UP: The Craft of Sex Writing in Critique and Practice, which explores the craft of sex writing through original creative nonfiction and analyses of sex writing by contemporary authors.

The Guardianand I’ve written about it in brief before


“Sex in Public”queerqueer

Craft in the Real World

Mind Fuck: Writing Better Sex


Leilani’s use of conjunctions in this scene is particularly interesting:

Page 38 of Raven Leilani's LUSTER, with conjunctions highlighted
page 38 of Raven Leilani's novel LUSTER


Now, let’s look briefly at how Leilani uses what I call descriptive “echoes” later in the same scene, to maintain that rhythm and to both construct and destroy sexual privacy:

Page 40 from Raven Leilani's LUSTER, with descriptions highlighted (many of these descriptions are also listed in the essay)
Page 40 of Raven Leilani's novel LUSTER
Page 41 from Raven Leilani's LUSTER, with descriptions highlighted (many of these descriptions are also listed in the essay)

it doesn’t matter.

it’s okay, I understand.

On Your Own:

  1. Follow Melissa Febos’s recommendation from “Mind Fuck”: Write your sexual life story in five sentences. Then start over again and write it five more times. Each time, look for ways for the story to become truer, more visceral, and less inhibited by instinct and expectation, until you’re satisfied you’re telling it as accurately as possible.

Megan Pillow is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Kentucky. She is co-editor of The Audacity, a new newsletter by Roxane Gay, and founder of Submerged: An Archive of Caregivers Underwater. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in, among other places, in Electric Literature, The Believer, TriQuarterly, Guernica, and Gay Magazine and has been featured in Longreads. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her two children."