How Writers Are Like Prostitutes

Slate's Culture Blog
March 19 2010 12:13 PM

How Writers Are Like Prostitutes

Most U.S. reviews of Showtime's Secret Diary of a Call Girl compare it with Sex and the City . Like that old HBO mainstay, the British show concerns a young woman with a killer wardrobe, a penchant for voice-over narration, and a tendency to talk directly to the camera. Both have their origins in unconventional literary sources— Sex and the City grew out of Candace Bushnell's relationship column in the New York Observer , and Secret Diary of a Call Girl is adapted from an anonymous blog that spawned a hugely popular series of books . Both feature skylines, shoes, and shagging. What's more, Sex and the City 's Carrie and Secret Diary of a Call Girl 's Belle are both published authors. But the similarities end there.

While Carrie is merely whorish, Belle is literally a whore. (OK, a high-end "call girl.") And while Carrie was a terrible writer—didn't you always cringe when she intoned a topic sentence?—Belle's a good one. Viewers don't hear a lot of Belle's prose read aloud, but we know it's great because other characters read it, smile, and beam, "This is great! "

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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Of course, it makes sense that a prostitute would be a great writer, given how much the two professions have in common.

Many practitioners use pseudonyms: "Belle" is a cover identity, a device to keep Hannah's life separate from her work.

They do it for the money: In the age of unpaid blogging, writers are constantly being reminded that they shouldn't give the goods away for free.

They work with middlemen: What are publishers other than pimps? "You're on [her publisher's] books to make money." Hannah's jealous best friend reminds her. "That's what you are to him: a cash cow."

In the just-completed third season, Belle proves herself a peerless dispenser of practical writing tips. She's the Natalie Goldberg of whoring because she understands that pleasing her editor is no different from pleasing her clients. This leads to such dual-purpose gems as: "If you're going to do role-play, you have to do it completely. You have to get every detail right. You have to work out how he wants to feel, get inside his head, find the spark of fantasy, fan it until it's on fire." It's something that every writing teacher could learn from: The best writing tips also work as sex advice.

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