Who’d you pick? Maybe you chose Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, or Nora Roberts?Whoever you chose, I’m willing to bet that when the name popped to mind so did a very definite sense of genre. Each of the authors I mentioned is tied inextricably to the genres in which he has been so successful. Genre is a huge selling point. Marketers use genres as convenient niches to classify books, steer readers toward their preferences, and keep their attention. As a result, most successful authors are successful in large part because their names have become equivalent with the genres they write.
But you should also note that despite their huge success in their trademark genres, none of these authors have allowed themselves to be pigeonholed. They’ve all gone on to write successful novels in vastly different genres (albeit sometimes under pseudonyms), not only proving that art need not be fettered by the sometimes stifling confines of the market’s dictates, but also that the better the artist, the more varied his work and the more successful are his varied works.
I’m admittedly a bit of a Mexican jumping bean when it comes to genre. Life’s too short to explore the same ground over and over or to shackle myself to just one type of story. I’ve written two historical novels in vastly different time periods, my next book is a fantasy, I’m currently working on a literary piece, and I have stories romping around in my brain that span the gamut from suspense to steam punk. I love to experiment; I love to push my limits and force myself to grow. With every new genre or subgenre I attempt, my abilities as a writer are tested and polished. Even if I’m not successful in every genre, even if not every story finds its way into print, I’m not only enjoying the wide-open horizons of unbounded possibility, I’m also strengthening my competence in the craft.
In the November/December 2009 issue of Writer’s Digest, editor Jessica Strawser points out:
Our writing projects can be our favorite well-traveled destinations. We return again and again to that work-in-progress, cozy in to the groove we’ve worn from what we already know we’re good at, what we already know feels comfortable and, if we’re being honest, maybe a little safe—predictable, even. And writing should be that kind of refuge. Your manuscript, your niche or your genre becomes that place where you can get just lost enough to satisfy the longing…. [But] When’s the last time you explored a new direction, took a little detour?… Diversifying the writing you’re doing grows your platform.
Sometimes the thought of mastering even one genre can be daunting enough. But our journey as writers should be about growing, learning, and strengthening ourselves. Stagnation isn’t fun or profitable, and it isn’t likely to produce high-quality work. Every once in a while, dare to step outside the bounds of normalcy and see what unexpected adventures you can find off the beaten path. If you do, who knows—we may be seeing your name alongside the likes of King, Evanovich, Grisham, and Roberts!
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