One thing this habit has done, besides necessitate more conscious and increased focus on my main projects, is encourage me to expand my literary horizons.
I've always been more of a contemporary writer. The short story I wrote in my eighth grade creative writing class was about a single mom seeing her son in her dead husbands cigarette scented leather jacket. (Not presumptuous at all, right?). I adored Chronicles of Narnia and Chronicles of Prydain, but most of my childhood reading was stuff like Walk Two Moons and The Great Brain and Cricket in Times Square.
My point is this: though my reading habits have grown and shifted, and though almost all my recent work is sort of a blend of contemporary and fantasy, I've never really written a hard sci-fi or high fantasy piece.
Some of the best opportunities and venues I've come across in my research are for hard sci-fi and high fantasy.
Which means I'm needing to stretch myself, if I want to participate in these opportunities. In fact, I'm working on a piece now that I hope to submit for consideration in a sci-fi anthology. It is definitely a challenge, but I feel like I am learning a lot, and seeing some great potential benefits.
So if you want to write in a genre you've never tried before, how do you do it? And why should you even try?
One of the most important tools for writing in a new genre is reading in that new genre. That is the best way to get the flavor and tone of the tradition you are joining. There are a lot of things about writing that one learns best through a sort of osmosis, and reading in a new genre can help you avoid cliches and pitfalls that might be specific to the genre you're trying out.
Try reading blogs from authors in the new genre. This, along with the reading, can be a sort of genre crash course. Author bloggers often talk about the ins and outs of their genre, and reading these posts can help you get some of the "insider" scoop. For example, if you want to try romance, reading the blogs of some established romance writers might help you figure out genre pillars romance readers expect, as well as cliches to avoid to help you stand out in a positive way.
Most of all, be you and have fun. In some ways, I feel like these strict genre delineations are a bit silly and can be the opposite of useful. I think what many of us write already has a little bit of this and a little bit of that. (This is why when query time comes around, it can be tempting to make the "It's a rom-com meets horror but also with cowboys and a dash of the paranormal" mistake.) The point is, we are all extremely unique, and its important to bring to the table what only you can bring to the table. Learn the genre, know the genre, then do it how only you do. Just go for it.
Okay though. This does kind of seem like a lot of work, right? And maybe a little intimidating. Definitely has been that way in my experience. So why do it? Why not just stick with our comfort zone?
1. Your overall writing will improve, including in your normal genre. Imagine someone at the gym who is really working on building those biceps. They work those biceps hard, and know all the best methods and tricks. The thing is, if they do nothing but work the biceps, they run the risk of stagnation. To help them progress, they should remember that it's all connected, and that their quest for perfect biceps can in fact be assisted by working other muscles like the triceps and deltoids.
Such is the case with genre, in my opinion. I have learned things in experimenting in new genres that I can most definitely take back and incorporate into the stuff I typically write. Here's a graphic that shows what I mean, and I think is a great place to start.
3. You will broaden your writing resume. Writing in a multitude of genres gives us versatility and flexibility. We grow our street cred. Then when more opportunities come up that we want to pursue, we have the experience and even some word count to back it up. I may be in the beginnings of my hard SF journey now, but next time I see a great opportunity in that genre, I'll have that much more experience in my tool belt. I think most of us rather enjoy working in lots of genres, like we enjoy reading in lots of genres, so starting now and building up that broad resume can really get us off to a good start.
4. You will find new readers. Again, I think most of us typically read in a lot of genres. I mean, we may have a genre we gravitate to more often than others, but I think most of us mix it up every once in a while. And so do our readers. A reader who typically reads hard SF might very well also enjoy contemporary YA. In other words, even if a prospective reader discovers me through a science fiction magazine, that may help me grow my readership in the other genres. Same with anyone. If you typically write historical novels but then decide to submit a short story to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, the overlap could very well help you find more readers for your historical novels.
Do you think its worth it to try writing in a new genre? What is your typical genre, and what others might you want to try?
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- Tennessee Williams Literary Festival Short Fiction Contest: Submit a short story, up to 7000 words. Grand Prize: $1,500, plus airfare for the next Festival in New Orleans, VIP All-Access Festival pass for the next Festival ($500 value), plus publication in Louisiana Cultural Vistas magazine. $25 entrance fee. Due Nov. 16.
- Beecher's Magazine: Beecher’s Magazine, an annual print journal produced by graduate students at the University of Kansas, seeks inimitable poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art for its fifth anniversary issue. Due Feb. 14.
- Pentimento: Pentimento, a literary magazine for the disability community, is accepting submissions for our Winter 2014/2015 issue. We publish disability-related essays, poetry, and fiction and artwork and photography by individuals with a disability. The writing topic for the Winter issue is “Romance,” and we’re seeking true stories regarding romance and disability. Due Sep. 30
- The Last Line: From the fine folks who bring you The First Line: We're going to try a little experiment. We've got a last line for you, and we want you to give us the story that ends there. We'll follow the same guidelines as The First Line (300-5,000 words), with the twist that all of your stories must end with the last line provided. Due Oct. 1
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