setting fire to the ropes: or, what it's like to write a book about the science of women's sexual wellbeing

In preparation for writing a book, I did what nerds do when faced with the task of doing something they’ve never done before:

I read books about how to do it.

I read at least six books about how to write a book.

None of those books warned me about The Feelings.

So let me correct that, for any of you who may be writing books, now or in the future:

There are Feelings.

And I mean, Feelings Like Woah.

I just sent Chapter 5 (of 8) to my editor and agent, and it has taken me this many chapters to recognize that there is a stable pattern of emotions involved in finishing a chapter.

1. I finish a draft of the chapter, a draft that I feel is the best I can do, pending input from my editor

2. I get a terrible stomach ache and retire to my bed with a heating pad and a romance novel.

3. I wake up the next morning, I try to start writing the next chapter but burst into tears instead, and I cry all day. Not constantly all day, but off and on, all day.

4. And then the next day I start on the next chapter.

No one told me there would be Feelings, but I can tell you: there are Feelings.

What the hell, you ask?

Fortunately, Sufi poet Rumi has this wisdom to offer:

A story is like water
that you heat for your bath.

It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you!

Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries. 

As I write the book, I’m trying like mad to be the storyteller. Trying like mad to sit down in the middle of the fire.

Do you know the story of Abraham and the fire? Basically, he’s being punished for his faith – I mean, of course he is.

The king ties Abraham up in ropes and sets him on fire. But Abraham sits in the fire with an angel at his side. For three days, apparently. And you know what happens?

The fire burns away the ropes.

The fire. Burns away. The ropes.

History does not relate (to the best of my knowledge) whether or not Abraham had Feelings during the three days that he sat in the furnace.

But it seems to me that my day of Crying Off and On, complete with stomach ache and heating pad and romance novel – and, let’s face it, a judicious quantity of white wine – is the fire burning away the ropes. Burning away the last vestiges of the social control from which I would, if I could, release every reader of my book.

Abraham was a man of God. I am a woman alive on earth to teach other women to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies. And writing the book is burning away the ropes.

Am I enjoying the experience? Well. It’s very Meaningful. It’s hard work – though there is no other work I would rather do. But let’s face it, fire it hot and scary. I’m hot and I’m scared and I’m gradually becoming freer – and freedom itself brings its own terror.

But there is – and I think this is the ultimate moral of the story – nothing I would rather do than sit in this fire, tell this story, burn away the ropes. Heat the water. Carry the message. And in the end, possibly, clean you.

In short, I recommend it. But only if it’s your life’s work. Otherwise… man. It’s hot and scary, and it requires a purpose far beyond the fire itself, to make it a worthwhile experience.