"...everything in life is writable...if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."..... Sylvia Plath

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Finding your ideal genre

As a writer, you have probably already discovered that writing has its different specializations. If you want to be truly effective and successful you cannot be a jack of all trades and a master of none. After a while, you will have to specialize in a particular genre.

For years I wrote non-fiction, essays, journal articles, newsletters, cookbooks and so on. Then a year or so ago I was invited to join a private writer's group of around 35-40 writers, many of them published, some of them editors. We would post what we were working on for feedback from each other and from three professional editors. Everyone was experimenting with all sorts of things. There were small specialized groups working on poetry, journal articles, sci-fi, short stories, novels, and so on. If there wasn't a group for the genre you were interested in, you could start one. It was great. 

I started out writing poetry, which is a genre I'm very familiar with, because I knew there was a master poet/editor in the group and I wanted to work with him. I became comfortable with writing poetry again and started posting and commenting on other writer's work. After a while, I decided to try fiction, simply because I like a challenge and I had never seriously entertained the idea that I could write fiction. 

The thought of writing a novel turned me off completely. I knew I couldn't stick with one continuous story for that length of time. But I thought maybe I could handle short stories, or short-short stories, or maybe flash fiction. You see how I was trying to get it down so that my brain could manage the thought of such a project? This is something I know in retrospect but wasn't aware of at the time.

First I wrote a true story about something that happened to me when I lived in Chicago. I got a lot of good feedback and most everyone said I should develop it into a longer piece. Some suggested fictionalizing it into a short story. And so that's what I did. At least, that's what I started to do. The feeling from those in the group who were critiquing me was that I needed to insert more dialogue; it was too much like a personal narrative. 

Then I was told that the characters needed to be more developed...then maybe I should change it to the third person, then back to the first person for more intimacy, then....ad nauseum. By that time I had had it. I tried a couple of other stories and it was no fun. It was like pulling teeth. The group was encouraging me but I was resisting. 

Why was I resisting? and why was it no fun? Because that was not my ideal genre. I started analyzing it. I began thinking about the forms of writing that came natural to me, that were the easiest for me to write, that I always did a great job on, without a great deal of stress. It suddenly dawned on me that non-fiction was where I should concentrate my writing efforts; that was where my talent was. I'm not a cross over writer. 

When I asked my self what I enjoyed writing the most. My answer was clearly: journal articles on almost any topic ( I love to do research), essays also on a variety of topics, creative non-fiction like true stories and vignettes about real events, and most of all, personal narrative. So when I got to where I was ready to tackle a book, the logical genre for me was memoir. I love writing stories about what happened at my bed and breakfast the 16 years that I have been an Innkeeper. And I hope my readers will like them too.

if you enjoyed this post, feel free to leave a comment


  1. I'm glad you are finding your voice/genre. I too have struggled in the past with how I would express myself. I started with photography but then felt there was more to add. I wrote narrative and then evolved into poetry. I recognized there was a certain comfort there for me that didn't exist in other forms. You've shown a flexibility in playing with other genres. I think you'll reach a comfort level with one that will make you feel the way you do when you feel the cold and wrap up in a warming blanket. :)

  2. Hi Nancy ~
    Just happened to stop by your site, sort of out of the blue. Glad I did...especially this particular post. I too have had a love affair with words for most of my nearly 60 years (with music and art as sidelines) - somewhat different than yours, but I can relate. Your last paragraph is *exactly* what I concluded about myself about 5 months ago - I wouldn't change a word of it...except for the last sentence, of course :~)

    Your She Writes' friend,
    M Kathy

  3. @photodiction: Thanks for the comments. Yes, I'm still struggling with getting my authentic voice into my writing, especially when I want and need it. It's not always there, but I'm learning techniques for finding it.

  4. @M Kathy, so glad you caught up with me here. I'll have to stop by your blog and check it out. Very interesting that we have some of the same experiences and feelings about our writing.

  5. Hi, Nancy.

    I ran across you blog on Blog Catalog, and I am so glad I clicked because I needed to read this.

    I have been receiving so many suggestions regarding what I should write. It seems to be hard to explain, especially to non-writers, the fact that certain types of writing come more naturally for me. I seem to naturally excel at non-fiction essays and academic writing. I have written short stories and some poetry, but I am not always inspired to write so creatively, and it simply does not come naturally.

    My mother is a published fiction author and my daughter is a budding journalist, so it seems that writing runs in the family. I don't know HOW I will develop my writing career, but on thing for sure is that I want to develop it.

    I've never had my writing critiqued by other writers; it sounds like a good idea. I guess I need to take some time to assess my true genre and niche, as well as seek to join a writer's group.

    Anyway, I am glad I discovered your blog. You have some really great content here.

  6. Irvin, I'm so glad that my blog post hit home with you. Seems we've had similar experiences. Yes, I think it's extremely important to write what you feel the most comfortable writing. Just because your mom writes fiction, doesn't mean you have to. I wish you well in your endeavors. keep in touch.