If you've spent much time at all in the writing blogosphere, you've doubtless run into writers' struggling with balancing the desire to write in multiple genres with what seems like sensible advice to pick one and settle into it while establishing your career. I've blogged on it multiple times, sometimes referring to the selected genre as a pigeonhole, of all things. Recently, middle grade author Alex MacKenzie did a guest-spot on the Literary Lab, in which she referred to her writing as as, at a minimum, a two-trick pony; and Michelle Davidson Argyle, author of literary fantasy and literary thrillers, said she felt like she was defying her own good sense.
Very often the gut response by authors and those who support and encourage is, "Why limit yourself?" Or, more expansively, something along the lines of, "You have so many great ideas, why limit your own creative energy or the experiences of your readers by confining yourself to only one genre?"
I don't intend to give guidance any to any individuals in this post, because I think genre choice is a very personal decision and different authors can and should go about approachingit very differently for themselves. That said, I would like to respond to this one notion -- "Why limit yourself?"
As you know, I've done just that.
I am an author of psychological suspense and short, character-driven literary fiction -- but my interests are incredibly diverse. I have not only a general desire to write in other genres, but some specific goals that will never be met without some dabbling in other genres, and a handful of very specific projects ideas in other genres. But, for now, I have limited myself.
And I'm glad I have -- and not just for marketing reasons. Forget those. What I want to suggest to you is that, at least for me, I have gained a lot by limiting myself. I'll strip away the lengthy examples and cumbersome analogies that I normally work with and just give you the hit list. Some of this might be obvious, but others I think are a little less so.
- It has given some focus to my reading, so that I am really familiar with the genre of the book I am writing. This helps me know what techniques are common, what cliches to avoid, what's taken for granted, and what's a little risky.
- It has given more focus to my networking. While I still meet and get to know authors in other genres, I have made some tremendous contacts specifically within my genre because I'm one of them.
- It has allowed me to really strengthen my writing. I was a good writer before I chose my genre. Once I settled into the genre, and my writing brain became more focused, and all my writing projects became centered around that genre and style, my writing has become far stronger and far punchier.
- It has given me a tool set for answering those questions that inevitably come up when you're writing. "How should I handle this?" "What's most important here?" "How do I want to structure this?" "What should the arc of the pacing be like?" Oh, right, like psychological suspense. Because that's what I write. Simply defining the genre of my book was never as helpful as defining my genre as an author for answering these questions because I could always cop out to, "Well, this is a psychological suspense novel, but I'm just a writer and I have a literary world at my fingertips."
- It has helped me understand specifically how my book does and does not fit into my genre. I don't have just a general sense of, "It doesn't really fit perfectly into bookstore shelf-genres." Because I know my genre, I can point to specific elements that fit or or don't, and I can engage in informed conversation about the decisions I made in those regards.
- It has encouraged a general discipline in how I approach writing projects. The fact that I'm not going to allow myself to jump onto a sci fi project or a fantasy project has removed a great deal of the temptation to hop around or waste my mental energy on projects other than the one I'm trying to finish. Delayed gratification is not bad.
- It has dramatically enhanced my voice. Part of an author's voice comes from an author's self-identity, and the stronger that self-identity, the stronger and more confident, the more well-developed the authorial voice.
- It has increased the seriousness of my outlook at my writing. Lots of people are writers. Lots of people want to write a novel. Lots of people write stuff. I was like that for many years. Even after I decided I wanted to taking my writing seriously, but the day I determined that I'm an author of psychological suspense and short, character-driven literary fiction, it was really serious.
I'll stop there before this gets unwieldy. Again, my point isn't to convince everyone that they need to pick a single genre. You don't have to. But, if you're a career-track writer, and you're conscious of the marketing concerns, of the pressure to establish an identity for yourself at the outset of your career, but your fans and loved ones keep asking you, "Why limit yourself?" -- maybe this will help you see that it's not all bad limiting yourself.
Bones heal best in restrictive casts. Children develop best with rules and boundaries. You can't have a reservoir without a dam. (Okay, so I couldn't stay entirely away from the terrible analogies.)
Limits aren't always bad.
And they aren't forever.
They're for now.
Soundtrack to writing this post provided by Ronnie Dio, Faith No More, Dokken, Skid Row, and Queensryche.