Trying New Genres – What I Learned

I spent a few years ignoring timelines and ignoring the honest WANT to keep up with having books under contract, and I experimented.

I wrote a thriller/horror with a supernatural/sci-fi style twist (think X-Files) and started another one or two in that same genre, and I wrote a MG novel with a hint of magic, and I wrote a fun ghost hunter book that reminded me of my love of Scooby Doo and Supernatural (I’d like to note this happened BEFORE that mashup was announced, lol). I wrote what was supposed to be a parody, but ended up being a paranormal romance w/ someone who is NOT a vampire. And then I went back to where I started writing, and finished a women’s fiction that was born from a song I wrote about 15 years ago, and a project I started writing about 7 years ago. As I step back into the submission trenches, I’ve started to reflect on what I learned over the past few years.

BENEFITS:

  1. I learned that I’m far more versatile than I thought.
  2. I learned that I can finish old projects, but they change so much, they might as well be new ones. In other words, I’m far less afraid to fully re-imagine old ideas.
  3. Most projects, like the “Not a Vampire” one were FUN. I remembered what it felt like to write something JUST FOR FUN that I didn’t intend on putting out into the world. I recognize that I need to do this more – although, I’ll probably do this in short fiction style in the future.
  4. When my MG went on submission, I panicked b/c I realized that if it sold, I’D HAVE TO WRITE ANOTHER MG, and it never felt “right” – basically, I learned this is not a genre for me to write, no matter how much I love to read it. AND THAT’S OK.
  5. I realized that just because I LOVE good horror, and I LOVE X-Files, doesn’t mean that it’s what I’m supposed to be writing right now. I can be obsessed with a genre that I never write in.
  6. I learned a LOT of new skills in putting together stories. I played with different theories of plotting, and building tension – helped me realize what elements of story-telling are universal, and which are more geared toward specific genres.
  7. Gained far more insight into setting, character, plot, tension, and how we often teach and learn about these things separately, but how they are inextricably linked.
  8. There is something incredibly empowering about saying to myself – I’ve written (insert long list of genres here) because it strokes the ego a little, and creatives need a little ego stroking.

DOWNSIDES:

  1. It’s harder than I imagined to write so many words that will most likely never see the light of day. It makes going forward trickier, b/c even more of me is asking – Is this going to be worth it? Will you ever sell something again? (It is important to note here that only two of the above books went on submission, they went on VERY limited submission, and I may one day tweak them to be publishable/marketable. I chant this to myself sometimes)
  2. There are times when I feel like I should have been able to figure all this out without writing so many freaking words.
  3. I still wonder, because of all of the experimentation, if I’m still trying to re-gain a foothold int he publishing world, in a genre I shouldn’t be writing. Did I choose right moving forward? Are one of those drafted projects my “golden ticket” into once again making money and I’ve left it behind?
  4. There’s a lot of second-guessing as to the idea of – Will I ever be good enough to get another contract? (You can tell this is on my mind a lot, b/c this is almost a repeat of #1)
  5. When I sit down, I second-guess far more than I ever did before – Is this what I should be working on? When I’m no longer limited by genre, the world opens up, and sometimes more choices is harder.
  6. Should writing be fun? Or serious? Or is there really a way to separate “passion projects” from “lucrative projects” and will the two ever marry? Will there be a point when the passion project no longer feels like a passion project because the next one is due and it’s necessary to keep a career floating?

This experiment has forced me to question the stories I love and why, the stories I want to tell and why. I’ve gone from taking myself very seriously writing about family secrets and love, and cracks in the universe that take lives and warp time, and then I find myself writing about a 300 year old snotty high school student who is NOT a vampire, to a yogi whose mom is a reaper and who chases ghosts. Maybe this should be on my BENEFITS list? But this paragraph could also be on my DOWNSIDES list. I love all the things. I wish I could write all the things. I still don’t know yet which I do best, but at the moment, I’m hoping it’s Upmarket Women’s Fiction…

If I love X-Files so much, why is this not what I’m writing? When a new horror comes out, and changes my view of the world, why is this not what I’m writing? But also, the stories I’m working on now? I’ve read life-changing books in that genre as well. So, I think I’m in a good place? But again, I had so much fun in so many places, that I don’t know if I’m in a good place…And this isn’t a confusion I had before jumping around in my writing.

A long time ago, my agent gave me her rule of three – the idea that if after three books in a genre, your base isn’t growing, it’s time to move on. So who knows, I might get a chance to write in ALL the genres. Like Chuck Wendig pointed out in this article – most authors have several lives throughout their career.

Honestly, the best thing I got out of the past few years of stepping back from the publishing world and WRITING is remembering that writing is a part of me, in all its genres, categories, and forms.

~ Jo

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