Why multi-genre writing rocks!

During the week of June 14-17, I was fortunate enough to win a scholarship to attend the Wesleyan Writers’ Conference. It is a program that offers the opportunity for people to meet fellow writers and learn from some of the best in the field, and I was ecstatic. But a dear friend, who is privy to my day-to-day madness, asked me, “Do you have any energy left to participate in a conference? Aren’t you editing your second novel?” She made me a cup of ginger tea and added, “Won’t the conference distract you?”

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivasta Vikram

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivasta Vikram

To understand where she is coming from, you’ll need a little background information. In the first quarter of 2012, I finished two books: the first, a nonfiction book called Mouth Full, due for an October, 2012 release; and the second, a full-length collection of poetry entitled No Ocean Here, due for a March, 2013 release. I sent them both to their respective editors. After sending in those two books, I took a few days off and began to re-work my second novel, which is due to my agent by the end of this summer. Aside from the fun of juggling home life, client projects, teaching commitments, a never-ending line of houseguests, and volunteer work, you would think that writing deadlines spread across three genres would make me pull my hair out. Until my friend brought it up, I had never seriously thought about why that hasn’t happened to me.

I left New York City wondering if the fact that I wear multiple writing “hats” is what keeps me sane as a writer. The more I think about multi-genre writing, the more I am intrigued by the many possibilities that it presents.

Benefits of Multi-Genre Writing

Eliminates Writers’ Block: Working with poetry, fiction, and nonfiction means that if you hit a roadblock with one, stepping away does not mean barren days for a writer. You could switch genres and work on a separate project altogether. That would also reduce any guilt arising from procrastination.

At Wesleyan, I signed up for a poetry consultation. As far as my brain was concerned, poetry uses a completely different slice of the right side. Exploring a different genre meant that, upon my return, I was able to look at my novel with a fresh set of eyes so I could iron out the wrinkles. So, while I did take a “break” from fiction and my characters, I didn’t take a break from writing. It was much easier on my freelancer conscience.

Engaging: Working on different projects provides for personal and creative expression. It allows writers to expand their skills in a variety of different mediums. For instance, long lines and a complex, Whitmanesque style of poetry could extend into a narrative in either a fiction or a nonfiction manuscript. Likewise, flash fiction or micro fiction can function as great writing prompts for poets looking for help in generating ideas.

Recycling: Instead of erasing work that you are not satisfied with, multi-genre writing allows these rejected pieces to be used in an entirely different project. Material never goes a waste: it is recycled. When I was editing my first novel, I followed my editor’s suggestion to remove some parts that had rich language in order to avoid sensory overload. I saved the deleted material in a separate folder, and revisit it when working on a new poetry collection. Those nuggets of information, metaphors, imagery, and symbolism I had tucked away under “recycle” come in handy.

Provides Emotional Recovery: Sending a book out into the world can create an emotional imbalance: a mix of post-partum depression and empty nest syndrome. After having lived in the world of your characters for an extended period of time, there is a feeling of grief and loss. Having a project or a deadline in an unrelated genre helps you to heal faster.

Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivasta Vikram

Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivasta Vikram

When my novel, Perfectly Untraditional, came out in August of 2011, I did a three-week book tour and gave several talks around India. It was exciting! But right after the book promotions were over, I felt empty and lost. Thankfully, though it was exhausting, I had a poetry chapbook called Beyond the Scent of Sorrow, due for an October, 2011 release in New York City. That meant I had to stop sulking and focus my full attention on the new book. Since I was working with poetry instead of fiction, I wasn’t reminded of my characters or the storyline.

For those of us who are overly-comfortable with assigning and evaluating goals (okay, obsessed with it), multi-genre writing is brilliant, because it does not allow you to over-commit (for the most part). You know there is only so much time for each project/genre. In some ways, there is not only less pressure, but also far more instant gratification.

Distracts From Failure: On the first day of the Wesleyan conference, award-winning novelist Amy Bloom gave a talk suggesting that writers should “embrace the idea of failure.” Failure makes us improve and do better next time. It struck me that I had not considered failure as an option. Not because I consider myself undefeatable by any stretch of imagination; it’s just that I don’t have much time to obsess about my fears. And even if I do, it is for a very short period of time.

Because I work across multiple genres, the fear of failure of one project is subdued and overpowered by the hope (often pressure) of succeeding in another project from a different genre. There are just twenty-four hours in a day, so I can either mope about what didn’t work out, or I can use the energy to create something vulnerable and raw with the rejection.

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About Sweta Srivasta Vikram

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an award-winning poet, writer, novelist, author, essayist, columnist, and educator. She is the author of five chapbooks of poetry, two collaborative collections of poetry, a novel, and a nonfiction book, with two upcoming book-length collections of poetry in 2014. Her work has also appeared in several anthologies, literary journals, and online publications across seven countries in three continents. Sweta has won three Pushcart Prize nominations, Queens Council on the Arts Grant BYOB Program for Writers, an International Poetry Award, Best of the Net Nomination, Nomination for Asian American Members’ Choice Awards 2011, and was short-listed for the Independent Literary Awards and Unisun Poetry Prize. A graduate of Columbia University, she lives in New York City with her husband and teaches creative writing across the globe & gives talks on gender studies. You can follow her on Twitter (@ssvik) or Facebook.

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