For a long time, I confined myself to one literary genre. I practiced poetry in a very concentrated, constricted manner that made me classify myself as such. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s powerful to know your strengths, to heighten your skills in a singular area as a means of becoming a master (or as close as one can come to becoming one, whatever that may mean to you). But I learned very quickly upon entering college and being exposed to a multitude of genres I hadn’t given much thought to, that you can only strengthen your skills so much by doing the same thing over and over, reading the same things over and over, and holding yourself to one genre.
Maybe this is common sense to some. Obviously, by expanding your palette you’ll expand the possibilities of your work. And while this made sense to me on paper, I still found myself sticking to what I know when it came to my actual writing practice. I came to Creative Nonfiction through a series of early writing classes in college. It was a category of writing that I knew existed but hadn’t given much thought to. I believed it to be scientific, truthful in a manner that was much colder than the kind of writing I enjoyed producing. Clearly, I was wrong. Once I started learning more about nonfiction, I entered a new era of writing. It was one that allowed me to create new work. But, more importantly, it completely reshaped the way I wrote in other genres. My poetry took new shape, adopting craft tips and creative energy from my nonfiction and my nonfiction borrowed the flowery language and lyrical brevity of my poetry.
It all became intertwined. What I’m trying to say is: slotting your work, or yourself as a writer, into specific genres, does a great disservice to the work you create. Each genre, though separated by different structural norms, shelves in bookstores, and specific sects of the literary community, has much more to do with one another than it may seem. Here are some of my humble tips for strengthening your work writing through strengthening your skills in every genre:
Read, read, read!
It’s a monotonous piece of advice. A nugget of wisdom offered by every member of the literary community. Of course as a writer you should be reading. What’s key about this piece of advice in this context is the diversity of material you should be reading. I know it’s too easy to read something that you know you love like another sci-fi, enemies to lovers novel or a collection of poems about being 20 years old and sad, simultaneously but try something new. Read a genre you tend to skip, even if it’s just a short essay or a piece of flash fiction. Absorb everything you can from every genre!
Learn in whatever space you can.
Attending classes is a privilege. It’s a way of obtaining knowledge that is helpful but unavailable to a large number of people, specifically in underserved communities. But organized classes aren’t the only way to learn, utilize any resources you can to bolster your understanding of different genres. Listen to literary podcasts, find videos of writer’s talking about their craft, ask questions when coming face to face with writers. Allow yourself the opportunity to learn in any way possible to you.
Try something new (even if it’s not your best work).
It’s equally as important to write amazing work as it is to write work that you dislike and takes you out of your comfort zone. In order to improve your skills, you have to let yourself work through the flaws in your writing. The only way to start this process is: to do the writing. Even the bad writing. The writing that slows and sputters at points, the writing that’s shaky on its feet and needs more character depth. All writing is progress in some way. Start by putting something on the page!
Best of luck on your journey through the muddled, wild world of writing genres. I promise, we’re in this together! See you along the road!