The week I launched this blog, I talked about genres of literature and the genre-based elitism which still exists among writers today. I want to return to that idea, particularly the issue of writers crossing genres. I have always sung the praises of reading diversely; now I want to discuss writing diversely.
Most writers are best known for certain genres. However, many of these writers also dabbled in other genres. Edgar Allan Poe wrote mainly Gothic horror short stories, yet he is also famous for his poem “The Raven”. He composed one novel outside of the Gothic horror genre, but that book did not go over very well at the time. Ian Fleming’s claim to fame are his novels about secret agent 007, but he also wrote Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, which inspired the classic film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (Fun fact: Roald Dahl co-wrote the screenplay with Ken Hughes. Bonus fun fact: I love this movie!) More recently, J.K. Rowling dared to step out of the fantasy and children’s books genres twice, once to mixed reception (The Casual Vacancy) and another to raving reviews (Cormoran Strike series, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith).
Based on these examples, writing diversely seems to yield mixed results. An audience maintains certain expectations for a writer and when he/she drifts away from these expectations, not one sort of reaction is guaranteed. Some may be thrilled that a writer they like is branching out; others may insist (rather angrily) that he/she stick with the tried and true.
For a writer, writing diversely may be a long-awaited release from the mundane or a horrifying plummet into the unknown, or both. Whether you embrace it, fear it, or approach it with caution, crossing genres can benefit your writing in many ways.
I will discuss four of these benefits in this post.
- You can strengthen different aspects of your writing. I’ve discussed this benefit at length before. Different genres teach us about different aspects of writing. Fantasy and science fiction teach about world building but horror and thrillers teach about suspense; with nonfiction, writers learn how to develop characters as real people readers can relate to, but fiction lends more to plot construction; writing novels necessitates sustaining consistent narration across many pages, and flash fiction weighs the importance of each word. When writing diversely, you develop more tools for better writing, no matter which genre you frequent most.
- You may discover a new genre you didn’t know you would love or for which you have a knack. You know the saying: you never know if you don’t try. You might love a genre you’ve never tried before because you’ve heard bad things about it. Maybe you thought nothing new could be brought to the genre but something in your writing could revolutionize it. Perhaps you’ve avoided writing a genre you love to read because you didn’t think you could do what your favorite writers do. If something inspires you to write in that genre, if you seem to get a sign from the universe that says now’s the time to try this, do it. There’s no harm in trying.
(left picture: cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, art by Mary GrandPré and published by Scholastic; right picture: cover of The Cuckoo’s Calling, unable to find artist but published by Sphere)
- You may discover that you despise writing a particular genre. Sometimes you love to read a genre but can’t write it. I really enjoy poetry but, frankly, I can never tell when my own poems are any good. This process frustrated me to the point that I decided I will continue to read poetry but that I should keep my poetry for myself and, occasionally, to share on this blog. By trying various genres, even if you end up hating the experience, you still get the benefits from #1 while also learning what you don’t want to do with your writing. It’s like they say, you regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did.
- Writing diversely recharges your imagination. Are you feeling in a rut? Can’t get your creative gears going? You may need to switch genres for a while. Maybe you’ve run low on good ideas for your favored genre and need to shake things up. Maybe you’re bored with writing the same kind of thing all the time. And maybe you just have the sudden inspiration to write something you’ve never done before. Go ahead, knock the dust off and try the new, the unknown. It might be all you need to put your writing back on track.
Writing diversely can strengthen your craft and help you learn who you are and who you want to be as a writer. We may prefer specific genres but that doesn’t mean we should restrict ourselves to them. Better to branch out and grow as writers than to remain stagnant.
You have any thoughts on writing diversely? Ever discover you loved a genre you never thought about trying? Learn that you’re tired of writing in the same genre time after time? Drop a line the comments.