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Handwritten is a place and space for pen and paper. We showcase things in handwriting, but also on handwriting. And so, you'll see dated letters and distant postcards alongside recent studies and typed stories. 

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Better Smut by Hand • Wednesday Black

Brett Rawson

BY WEDNESDAY BLACK 

I wrote the smutty little novella, How to Train Your Virgin, in the fall of 2014. Badlands Unlimited, a publishing company founded by artist and activist Paul Chan, had put out a call for erotic fiction the spring before, and I took a chance and entered a chapter. I thought there might be a little money in anonymous smut-making. The result was a somewhat bittersweet novella of feminist, fabulist fiction — oh, yeah, and fucking.

The real surprise for me was the enormous flow I experienced while writing it. I’d never written anything like it before, and it felt…good. It was as if my Inner Critic was so mortified she had no choice but to take a vacation. After all, I was working in cliché, striving to boost every scene over the top, and doing it all in a fantasy playground populated by evil bog women and clockwork sex carousels. Let’s not even get into the title! I mean, what could Inner Critic say that I didn’t know already? So I ran with the story — or maybe it ran with me.

I wrote most of HTTYV by hand — in bed, on the subway, hunched over in any number of coffee shops throughout Amagansett and Manhattan. I scrawled over multiple notebooks, post-its, scraps of napkin, the backs of receipts, and along the way I lost as much as I wrote.

Sometimes I like to imagine someone picking up one of those lost scraps of prose. What might they make of the scribbled words about Minotaur fellatio, great, tiered foundries for sexual smelting (okay, that one didn’t make into the book), or numbered directions for seducing hipsters? This is one of the dangers and pleasures of writing with pen and paper. Such words have a way of fluttering away on mysterious wings and leading lives independent of those we imagined for them.

Looking back at these first-draft jottings more than a year later, I can see a childish exuberance in my pen strokes and slashes. In many cases the finished product was very different, of course, and I’ve included examples here and there where it is relevant. 

What is it about writing by hand? I like seeing what I scribbled out, having it still there even though I’ve consigned it to ballpoint obscurity. I love the act of scrawling ideas, scenes, shreds of dialogue — when I do, it seems to come from my hand and not my brain.

Looking at it now, I can see by the physical state of my writing how I was feeling then: frustrated, ashamed, enthusiastic, bored. I can relive my process as it developed, see where my creativity tripped and fell, and the moment it brushed itself off to allow the show to go on. Here is the raw version of The Ruin Carnival scene and the published version:

Sure, the paragraph that made it into the published novella is clearer, contains more — but would not have existed at all without the notes. One was the organic, physical product of handwriting. The raw material. The other was processed until it became more effective and organized. That it was processed and finished with the rather sterile act of tapping away on a plastic and metal contraption is significant. A keyboard and a screen have a disciplining effect. Remember my Inner Critic? She was allowed to come home again during this part. Another example:

Often I didn’t feel certain necessary content deserved to be written by hand—why waste the ink and finger joints? Instead, I wrote a note to my future self to get on with it as in this note. Love scene is a euphemism for SEXSEXSEX. In fact, I wrote most of the actual sex scenes on the prudent keys of my Mac.

As for the passion, the obsession, the pain and heartache—all of those things I found were best rendered by hand. There is something about writing these human intrigues that required, for me at least, a body-word collaboration best engaged by planting elbows on table and pressing down with pen. 

In the end, after all that scribbling and wild fun, it was a trip to get the published version. Rigid margins, clearly printed large-type, a cover…wow. That’s classy smut, I thought. But the most human part, the communication between individuals — that was handwritten.

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Leia Menlove is Wednesday Black is Leia Menlove. Her writing has been published in Monkey Bicycle, Joyland, Joyland Retro Volume 2, The Artificial Selection Project and more. Her novella, How to Train Your Virgin, was released by arts publisher Badlands Unlimited in March 2015, and was featured at the The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Series, "Conversations with Artists and Writers.” She is a graduate of The New School MFA program for creative writing, and splits her time living and working in New Orleans and New York City. If anyone finds a notebook containing scribbled notes for a dirty novel about women who are attracted to deconstructivist architecture, please email her immediately: mswednesdayblack@gmail.com.