I've Done a Lot of Hustle Jobs To Survive, But Writing Porn for a Craigslist Ad Was the Strangest

It was for a "freelance erotica storyteller."
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Lyz Mancini
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It was for a "freelance erotica storyteller."

Remember that feeling you get when you're on your way to making a childhood dream come true, and you'll stop at nothing to get it? For me, that memory brings back 2008, an unpaid internship at NYLON, a suitcase full of black H&M dresses, and $300. In many ways, that exact moment was a dream—the first step to being a writer in the city I knew I was supposed to be a part of. I just didn't know it would take six years for New York to love me back.

My parents were always there to help when I needed, but Catholic guilt is a thing that very much runs in my veins and the thought of asking them for money was too embarrassing to fathom. I was going to make this work—the ridiculous rent, the $6 cereal, working 7 days a week two fulltime jobs, only one that came with a meager paycheck. I was going to make this work, and Craigslist had just grimily creeped onto the scene.

I had intelligently moved to a city where I had zero friends, and promptly broke up with my boyfriend of four years, so I could "commit myself to the city." Eyeroll. My first Sunday, I wandered Greenpoint, crying in record shops at records I couldn't even buy because I wasn't hip enough to own a record player (remember, this was 2008). 

One day of that was enough, so I took the train to Soho where I walked into every single restaurant and bar until someone hired me. A bar/hookah lounge asked me to work immediately. A sweet Russian waitress showed me the ropes, and told me to "never go downstairs"—I put in one shift, was given $50 cash, and was asked to return the following day. When I called my mom excited that I had stumbled upon some income, she Googled the place to discover that I had replaced a bartender who was stabbed 8 times in the gut a week previous, her body found in the East River. 

Cool, I thought, and never returned.

I managed to nab a hostessing gig soon after at a very touristy pizza place in Nolita, and although I was able to eat a free meal after every shift, the pay was abysmal. I was writing in the coolest magazine office ever during the day and seating fannypack-laden tourists in a packed pizzeria at night, and somehow I was barely able to afford milk for my aforementioned $6 cereal. 

If I was short on rent, a phone call to Mom and Dad was made, but it filled me with a sense of failure. I needed other means of moolah, and so over the next few years, I got creative. I wrote college term papers for grad students, revamped resumes, and even watched one time as a Russian girl tried on pairs of my shoes at a Starbucks, then decided to buy none of them. However, my first random hustle job was probably the strangest.

This gig I found was for a "freelance erotica storyteller." Clearly this was a Craigslist ad, and it was that ripe year of Craigslist where it was crawling with strange requests. Most involved feet. I thought, "Well, this is a writing job and I'm not sure serving juice at a swinger's party is my thing," so I sent a sample. 

A man named "Ben" quickly responded, letting me know he was offering $50 for 3,000 word stories to be published in a softcore porn mag I had actually heard of. He asked for a full story, and I was just like "OK." I didn't look into it, I didn't ask for credentials, I just got writing. 

It actually sounded fun, getting paid to write the best parts of fiction, and the idea of having a secret sexy pseudonym was just too good to pass up. I quickly wrote a drawn out, amped up version of my first time (3,000 words of sexual innuendo is a LOT, especially when your first time can actually be described in 25 words maybe), and hit send.

I quickly learned that there were apparently a lot of rules for writing porn, and "Ben" was a tough editor. He would send me paragraphs of notes – about character development, dialogue suggestions, and tone. He urged me to "push myself, really throw yourself into the scene." This was really turning into a lot of work. Maybe I was low-key sending porn to Kurt Vonnegut. He was really devoting a lot of time to me, yet every time I asked when a piece of mine would be published, he would tell me I "wasn't quite ready yet."Like I was Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Vol. II and he was the dude with the swishy beard making me punch walls and shit. Part of me was like, maybe this is the best editor I have ever had.

There sure were a lot of guidelines for the art of writing erotica, I thought. He kept making me edit every story over and over. "Lipstick lesbian is passé. You have to sound not legal, but be over 18. Write a true story about your first time, but it can't be underage and there can't be alcohol." Maybe I was his weird porn writing protegee.

A few months went by, and slowly his emails became shorter and he took longer to respond. I guess I didn't ask too many questions because the whole thing was kind of fun, I never really thought too much about who was on the other end of these emails. Eventually, Ben stopped answering me, and I expected to never see a cent for all the work I put into crafting such mediocre sexual art. 

And it was mediocre. I recently went back and reread some and good god, I hope they were never actually published anywhere. However, a few weeks after his emails stopped entirely, an envelope with no return address showed up at my apartment with $200 cash.

A little older, I like to think a little wiser... maybe, kinda.

A little older, I like to think a little wiser... maybe, kinda.

Now, I clearly realize years later that I was probably aiding in some weird fantasy of a stranger. I'll never know who Ben really was or why this was a fetish he put so much time and effort into, but I do know that my character dialogue improved, and my ability to write for long stretches of time without stopping. It was one of my first experiences with "killing your darlings," even though my darlings at that time included a lot of euphemisms for dick. I reacquainted myself with plot and motifs and themes, as my days were spent at my internship writing about fashion and beauty and music. I was flexing my fiction muscles. 

Plus, at the end of the day, I was able to afford the good cereal that week. Those Peanut Butter Puffins were worth it.