Venus on Mars

Why a Writer Needs a Penis!

Posted in Author's Notes by janmillsapps on April 29, 2010

You can actually buy a "penis pen" - comes in three colors!

I’m ready to turn my manuscript over to an editor.

Reading my own words these days makes me nervous. I can no longer work for hours on end (even if I had hours on end); somewhere along the way I get really antsy and then so anxious I can hardly press the scroll key to move forward or the select key to make a change, and I think I’ve figured out why. Three hundred or so pages requires an enormous attention span and at the same time rigorously applied microscopic attention to detail. Trying to choose the right words, put them in the right places, and keep the overall flow and content in my head. My head can’t handle all that.

Plus, it’s time to give my eyes and brain a rest, and for someone else to take a serious and critical look at what I’ve created. Despite my tease-y little quotes sprinkled throughout these blog entries, no one else has laid eyes on my text. That’s the scary part. I like what I’ve written; I must like it, to have spent the past two years with it. But what if it’s not nearly as brilliant and engaging as I think it is? What if that smugly opinionated editor was right, and my words and their arrangements fail to reach their full and breathtaking potential? What if my carefully nursed notion that I’m a gifted writer is mere self-delusion?

I’m not done yet, my inner voice screams quietly. I still need to go back through all my notes to see if there’s anything else I want to add. I want to go though a huge file of “outs” nearly as long as my novel itself, to see if anything needs to go back in. I’m still trying to decide whether this is a novel or a “novel-plus.” This week I took the first chapter only and formatted it as an interactive PDF file, embedding links – graphics, audio and video, additional text files. It’s cool, but really not taking me a step closer to my goal of finishing this story and getting it out there in one form or another. I’m just moving chunks around, playing with pagination, fonts and formatting, putting off the next step – to get another, professional opinion.

I keep thinking of an old, old quote from Erica Jong, something along the lines of “it’s a mistake to confuse the pen with the penis,” which I read in a long-ago Ms. Magazine article describing a female writer’s fear of finishing, because finishing implies judgment – in those days the judges were mostly male.

Now I’m thinking of Jong’s words anew – and in a less gender-specific way. The pen (or laptop) is something a writer uses – a personal tool to help her express her ideas, to reach her literary goals. The thoughts, the words, the tools are all part of a lovely creative flow that blossoms from within and eventually makes its way into some form that seems complete.

Enter the penis. Not literally; the “penis,” for a writer, is a tool she lacks, an external device, an objective opinion, a clever and possibly ruthless editor who will carve and shape the manuscript into its final, presentable and hopefully marketable form.

The moment the penis comes into play, however, the lovely bubble the writer has created with her pen bursts, no longer protected, no longer safe. An outside agent has intruded, offering its own possibilities, its own criticisms. Like that swarmy editor who nearly sunk my fragile ship a few months ago.

Where does the confusion come from, then? I trust my pen, but I shouldn’t trust the “penis,” no matter its gender? Don’t I need that item I don’t possess, that objective judgment? Is it possible that someone else’s words, inserted by someone else’s pen, will actually improve my story (as in “you complete me..”)

I realize I’m back to gender specifics. For a woman writer, the only way to “get” a penis is to locate one willing to lend its services – it’s an external device employed for the eventual gratification that seems so necessary for an artist. I can masturbate forever with ideas that come from within, but when it’s time to finalize and export, a penis, a coupling of my words and my editor’s contributions, may result in the actual birth of my novel.


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