Writing Across Genres

The theory goes like this: writing is hard enough without trying to write in more than one genre.

In other words, if you want to excel at any kind of writing, you are better off focusing your efforts on one type. The skills required to be a poet, after all, are not the same as those required to be a short-story writer or a novelist. Flitting from genre to genre probably ensures that you never get very good at any of them.

These are not unreasonable arguments.

Still, I disagree with them.

It’s not because poems and stories and novels don’t require different skills. They do (though maybe not as different as some people think).

But the fact that they are different is precisely why I find it useful to move back and forth between them. In the course of any single month, for example, I might be working on poems, flash, short stories, and longer works.

Why the variety? If I feel less than inspired with one kind of writing (and surely this happens to us all), I move on to a different type. Often, for me, this recharges the battery. Indeed, when I return to the first project, my enthusiasm often returns for that as well.

What’s more, I learn new tricks writing in one genre that I can apply to the others. Maybe I discover a certain sensibility or voice in a poem that I think might be even more effective in a short story.

Each form of writing, in other words, becomes a kind of cross-training for the others.

Besides, the approach of moving on when my energy flags helps me produce more work. And since I believe strongly that there is a certain serendipity involved in any project, I find that the more of them I attempt the more likely I am to hit on something.

Plus, variety helps with the one constant of a writer’s life: rejection. Maybe a short story I felt confident about is rejected by one of my favorite journals, but a day later a poem I had less hope for is accepted by a journal I have never received a “yes” from before.

It eases the sting. It really does.

And it makes me eager to sit down and to write something new.

I am sure that this approach won’t work for everyone, but I also think that writers who would like to write across genres sometimes hesitate for fear of stretching themselves too thin.

I say: stretch away.

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