Goethe said that “every author in some way portrays himself [sic] in his works, even if it be against his [sic] will.” For those of us writers who work in more than one genre, this might be a bit worrisome. Although it may be a symptom of some kind of mental confusion, I’d prefer to think of it as the output of a flexible personality with many interests. So, just as an athlete might be both a great runner and a great jumper, it’s possible to write in different genres – and write well. I’d like to also propose further that writing in one genre can actually improve your writing in others.
I believe that in general, our personal skill sets can cross many disciplines – and our writing skills can be used across genres. The notion of writing across genres, however, has two different meanings. One refers to process; the other to outcomes. First, let’s talk about the process: applying your individual skills as a writer to a number of different genres.
I started my writing career as a medical writer. Skills honed in that genre took me into medical communication which morphed into communication in general – most of my past work has been writing about health and corporate communication. But, I’m a writer. To me this means that I can use my skills to write anything that takes my fancy. I decided to move into creative non-fiction and wrote my memoir; then I took my research skills into an area that I love to read – historical fiction.
In my view, writers, like everyone else, have particular strengths – and my strengths are probably not the same as yours. I think it’s important to know what those strengths are and see how you can use them across genres. For example, my meticulous research skills, honed in the areas of non-fiction, have been enormously useful to me in moving into historical fiction. Story-telling is also a strength that many of us have – it’s a skill that is important both to non-fiction (creative or otherwise) as well as to fiction writers.
The second way that you can think about the concept of “writing across genres” is the notion that there are discrete categories of writing and to create a mash-up, to use the current parlance, is to create a cross-genre genre. Make sense?
Here’s my example: I have a secret – I sometimes read chick lit, and I’m not apologizing for it. Since I like a bit of escapist reading from time to time, and only if it’s well-written like some chick lit is, I am also interested in creating some of my own. But I don’t want to be formulaic. So, I’ve taken my interest in travel and travel writing and put it together with my interest in chick lit, and I’m writing a travel chick lit book. Is this a cross-genre? Maybe, but who’s to say? Who is the arbiter of what is and is not a genre? And who says that because my book is funny, with a young, modern woman as the protagonist, that it’s chick lit anyway? Maybe it’s just women’s literature – ooh, that sound a lot better, doesn’t it?
In any case, cheers to coming up with your own genres and writing whatever moves you.
Things to consider when crossing genres with your writing:
• Each genre has a different audience. Although I rarely recommend writing just to please an audience, if you’re actually going to be published in a number of genres, this is an important consideration. For example, the audience for a junior picture book is certainly not the same as the audience for your memoir.
• The same “voice” doesn’t work for every genre. Practicing working in different voices and styles is a way to improve your writing in general.
• You don’t have to publish everything you write in different genres. Writing across genres can be your own personal exercise to improve your writing.
• Don’t’ be put off by people (no matter who they are) who suggest to you that if you are one kind of writer, you cannot be another. In my experience, literary agents are particularly adept at making this kind of judgment.
• Keep meticulous records of research you do in each genre. It is possible that some day, the research that you use for that historical novel might just become important as you embark on your first children’s book for example.
Writing across genres is closely related to the notion of cross-writing. Just as cross-training is important to athletic performance, cross-writing can be a training exercise for your primary genre. Expanding your skill set as a writer is so important as new opportunities arise.