I’ve given this advice to other writers but rarely taken it myself: when you need a little inspiration, try writing in another genre. Once, I recommended fiction to a serious nonfiction writer, and she instantly protested. “I could never write fiction.” At certain points in my writing life, I thought the same thing.
Then, I decided to try writing a whole novel in November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This wasn’t a casual foray into an unfamiliar genre. This was a commitment to 50,000 words in 30 days. Plus I needed to continue with my other work and writing. At times, I’ve thought I was crazy to try to tackle such a big project. For a stretch of about three days, I thought it was a lost cause. I’ll never hit the word count in that time frame, I thought. Now, I’m writing a blog post with only 24 hours left to pound out just under 5,000 words. But don’t worry. I’ve got this.
Though I should be finishing my novel, I wanted to take a few minutes to explain the benefits you, too, could experience by writing in a different genre … even if it’s not 50,000 words in 30 days.
Because I haven’t written much fiction, I came into the genre without a lot of expectations about how good I would — or should— be. Instead, I’ve taken everything I’ve learned about fiction as a reader and editor and played around with technique, dialogue, character development, and plot. Is my novel good? Will it ever be published? I don’t know. Right now, that’s not the point. Writing in another genre has loosened me up creatively. I remember now why it is I write.
Regardless of what kind of writing you normally do, being an acute noticer surely plays a huge role in your work. It does for me. But I had gotten into a rut. I was no longer paying attention to the way people speak, to how the leaves blow, or to the connections between what I experience, read, and hear. Instead, I was barreling through writing assignments and producing low quality work.
Switching genres has helped me see and listen and breathe again. As I create scenes and describe characters, I have to pay closer attention to the real world around me. And as I make connections with the plot and setting of my novel, I find that I am paying attention to other ideas and questions and conversations, too. Things I could write about in the future. In fact, I sent off two pitches in the last 24 hours for nonfiction essays, my usual genre.
I don’t know about you, but any writing I do — at least the kind I really work at— seems to help me improve as a writer overall. I’ve long thought the weekly blog posts I write for a client about the details of healthcare billing and reform have strengthened my personal work in creative nonfiction. The research I do to craft instructive blog posts about Medicare policies have improved my penchant for summarizing and simplifying.
I expect the same to be true for this new attempt at fiction. Right now, I’m just in the drafting phase. But as I really work at making this novel into an audience-ready book, the discipline required to do so is going to help me tell better stories in my nonfiction work and help me get better at descriptions and structure even in the work I do for clients.
I first came to writing because it was fun. My very early work as a child often included writing stories and poems, but now, I hardly do that kind of work at all. Going back to the writing I first fell in love with has been a good reminder of how much fun writing is. True, writing is my work. I spend large chunks of most days writing or helping others with their writing. And for the past couple of years, I’ve limited the time I spent writing to “office hours” in order not to burn out. But during NaNoWriMo, I sat on the couch in my PJs and wrote early in the morning or late in the evening on several different occasions, and I had a great time doing it. Maybe you’ve forgotten how fun writing can be? Try writing in another genre.
Sometimes, writing can feel draining. It can feel like drudgery. When writing starts to feel that way to you, try switching to another genre.
Tell me about a time you switched genres in your writing … what did you learn?