At present, I’m trying my hand at a young adult novel. I have never written fiction before, not even as a kid I don’t think. I’ve always been a poetry and creative nonfiction kind of gal. But for some reason, this novel has stuck with me, and while I really have no idea if it is (or will be) any good, I’m enjoying the process of writing it because it is so different than creative nonfiction. In many ways, it’s easier – no research, no culling together of facts or climbing through difficult memories. I just sit down and write the next thing that happens in the story.
But that is also harder because here, I have nothing to fall back on, nothing to frame up the story beyond my own imagination and the information I draw from it. Plus, since this genre is new to me, I find myself much more reliant on ideas of craft – how much dialogue balanced to how much action, how many adverbs can I really get away with. I also expect that the revision journey for this one will be quite brutal.
All in all, the process of writing a new genre is making me a better writer, of that I am certain. Writing in a variety of forms, genres, and styles forces us to improve, and growth in one type of writing makes me grow in all my writing. That’s why I think it’s really good when writers try out new forms – both in their work and in what they read. Each form and genre has teaches us new things, even if we specialize in one type of writing.
Here are 5 ways I’m seeing my writing improve because I’m trying something new:
1. I lean less on my writing crutches. When I need a go to on the page, I often turn to lyrical language and imagery. I’m okay with this in my writing, but sometimes, I rely too much on it and not enough on action or dialogue when I write. Fiction needs plot and characterization and setting, so I can’t just fall back on lyricism.
2. I focus more on craft. While I hope I always explore craft ideas in creative nonfiction, I have a fairly good grasp on the fundamentals of that genre. But in fiction, while I certainly understand the fundamentals, I have to be much more conscious about employing them when I write this novel. I know I need to balance dialogue and action, and I can critique imbalance when I see it, but WRITING with balance is a whole new thing. So this new genre is forcing me to think more critically as I write.
3. I read more actively. I’m just on the final chapter of Rick Riordan’s The House of Hades, and I find myself paying a lot of attention to how much interior attention Riordan gives as opposed to lots of dialogue. I’m also fascinated by how he manages switching points of view. When I finished Deadly Yarn by Maggie Sefton last night, I drifted off to sleep thinking about her structure and how all the characters are introduced early in the book; that consideration made me realize I need to stop introducing new folks to carry the work in my novel.
4. I use a different part of my writer’s brain. When I write creative nonfiction, I often find myself slipping into a tunnel like part of my mind, a space that feels like it’s shrouded with trees going deeper into forest. But in fiction, I feel as if my mind is looking up and watching out for the next thing to come along as if I’m looking out over a vista. Both spaces absorb me completely, but one feels deeper and one wider. I love that.
5. I feel stronger. This element is really intangible, but I can say that trying something new has given me a lot more confidence in my ability to write – even as I still doubt that any of the ~31,000 words I’ve written are even readable. Just trying something new and sticking to it for a few weeks has given me more confidence while also solidifying my writing practice.
All that said, I highly recommend writing new things. Maybe not all the time – after all, there is value in going deep with a form or subject – but sometimes, when the idea comes for that poem or that play or that essay, may be we need to not shut it down as “not what we write.” Maybe we should give it a go and see what we find on the new, wider path.
What about you? Do you try out new genres, new forms? Why or why not?