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?”
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.
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.