I’ve always been a young adult reader and a young adult writer. My goal of being a young adult novelist has never changed, even in the college creative fiction program where my professors and peers looked down on “genre fiction” as sub-par writing. But somehow, the novel I’m working on… isn’t young adult. I’m not sure entirely how it happened. I just had an idea that I liked, I started to develop it, and next thing I knew, I was working on a sort of pop fiction comedy/romance.
Yesterday, I brought it up on Twitter and asked my followers if they felt obligated to write within a certain genre. The answers I got were all over the map, and they really gave me the opportunity to think hard about why I feel connected to a genre, and whether or not that’s healthy as an artist.
having a “thing”
Most of us have a genre or two that we feel really attached to. We like to read it, we like to write it, most of our ideas probably fall into this category. I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with this. We all have genres that are our “thing.”
Why does Stephen King write mostly horror? Well, for one thing, he’s darned good at it — and he seems to be chock full of ideas for it. We see a lot of talented authors writing to specific genres for their whole lives, with few or no books that stray: Roald Dahl or Avi as children’s authors, Isaac Asimov as a sci-fi author, Terry Pratchett as a fantasy author.
If you think you’re the Stephen King of your genre, that’s no reason to feel bad about it or feel obligated to change. Maybe you don’t have any interest in writing historical fiction or drama or comedy. That’s totally okay. Write what you want to write.
flexibility isn’t bad
However, for every famous author who sticks to a genre, there’s one who refuses. Neil Gaiman has written picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, fantasy novels… even television episodes. Our beloved JK Rowling didn’t just author the YA fantasy phenomenon Harry Potter series, but also the crime novel “Cuckoo’s Calling” and the tragicomedy “The Casual Vacancy.”
If you don’t want to stick with a genre, you don’t have to. I was stressed out yesterday because I thought if the first novel I published happened to be non-YA (which is jumping the gun anyway, since I’m really only a few chapters into this idea), I might never be able to write or publish YA at all. I was horrified because I had this ridiculous notion that whatever novel I finished and published was going to define my writing future — and I didn’t want to write pop fiction comedy/romances forever! In fact, I didn’t want to write them at all! I was just into this one idea.
But I was being crazy. Actually insane. That’s not how it works at all. You’re the only person who decides what genre you write in. And if you end up with an agent, editor, or publisher who wants to restrict you like that, you can find a new one that respects you as a writer and an artist.
But the thing is… these still aren’t all the viewpoints.
maybe do it… even if you don’t want to
If you want to stick to one genre, I’m a major advocate of following your heart. But on the flip side, writing things that are different is a great way to grow as a writer. You don’t need to pen an entire murder mystery if you usually write children’s fantasy, but I will say that I think dabbling in other genres and styles can be helpful and should be encouraged.
You know in Avatar, how Uncle Iroh learns the most badass firebending move ever by applying waterbending techniques to firebending? Well, since Uncle Iroh is right about everything, we should take his advice to heart and apply it to writing. Learning a different approach can strengthen your writing technique with new ideas and concepts.
Next Friday, I’ll have a blog for you with a new writing exercise, one that will hopefully allow us to apply Uncle Iroh’s method to our own writing by seeing how a little genre flexibility can loosen up our writing muscles and let us get a little more creative.
Do you feel attached to a single genre? Do you think genre flexibility is important, unnecessary, or something else entirely? Let’s discuss in the comments!