In this bold and exhilarating mix of memoir and writing guide, Melissa Febos tackles the emotional, psychological, and physical work of writing intimately while offering an utterly fresh examination of the storyteller’s life and the challenges it presents. How do we write about the relationships that have formed us? How do we describe our bodies, their desires and traumas? What does it mean to have your writing, or living, dismissed as “navel-gazing”—or else hailed as “so brave, so raw”? And to whom, in the end, do our most intimate stories belong? Drawing on her journey from aspiring writer to acclaimed author and writing professor—via addiction and recovery, sex work and academia—Melissa Febos has created a captivating guide to the writing life, and a brilliantly unusual exploration of subjectivity, privacy, and the power of divulgence. Candid and inspiring, Body Work will empower readers and writers alike, offering ideas—and occasional notes of caution—to anyone who has ever hoped to see their true self reflecting back from the open page.
Beginning with the author’s experience as a creative writing teacher on an MFA programme, this chapter makes the case for ‘navel gazing’: unafraid, unapologetic first-person writing about the body, sex, gender, violence, joy, and trauma. Febos explores her path to writing memoir, the bias against personal writing, and the politicization of trauma.
Febos explores the pervasiveness of prescribed and internalized narratives about the body and sex. This chapter examines the challenges of writing and teaching sex scenes, and offers some guiding principles for writing better sex: you can use any words you want; sex doesn’t have to be good; sex is what you call it; writing about sex doesn’t have to include sex at all.
Febos traces her interest in confession back to her childhood and explores her early reading experiences. This chapter explores the relationship between craft and instinct, the process of writing memoir, and the change of heart required to move from experience to the page.