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.
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