Writing in more than one genre can free a writer’s creativity and open up ways of interacting with the world, but writing in multiple genres means making the mental switch from one form to another.
San Francisco Poet Laureate Devorah Major has published two novels, five books of poetry, numerous essays, and a symphony with Guillermo Galindo–and offers advice for writers hoping to find balance.
Rochelle Spencer: How can a writer who works in two or more genres find the mental space to switch between the two?
Devorah Major: My experience is that natural spaces between genres already exists in my mind and body. There are some words that want to spill out as poem and others which demand the rhythms and ranges that are a part of prose. Sometimes I need to tell the story centering on truth and constructing fact, and sometimes I need to work with creative non-fiction because I want and need to stay close to facts and let the readers fall into their own truths.
RS: Is there a genre that particularly moves you?
DM: Science-fiction and magic realism seem to allow my mind and spirit to stretch broadly into imaginary worlds which can reflect core realities of our existence in this time and space. On the other hand, I find poetry the best vehicle for a purity of love expressions, an interaction with nature, a searing rage at injustice, a healing or salve for spirit.
When I write I try to write what my spirit demands. When stuck I pick a genre, as in “pick a card, any card,” and write. If it becomes a river to ride on, I stay in that genre. If I still am blocked I move to another genre sometimes asking and then writing the answer to: “What am I supposed to be writing.”
RS: What have you learned from writing in two or more genres? How has writing in multiple genres enhanced your writing or allowed you to take more risks?
DM: I have learned to open to the various ways that words have power and can be effective. Much like a musician who plays different genres and multiple instruments, I find that the more I stretch and commit myself to a level of craft in each genre I tackle, the stronger I become as wordsmith, as communicator, as storyteller, and most of all as poet. I am a stronger poet because I opened to the call of prose.
RS: And what about your prose?
DM: My prose came with a certain music because I had the well of my poetics from which to draw. My non-fiction essays became tighter, but still maintained a flow of story, because of both the poetry and the fiction.
I also think that writing in different genres has helped to open me to authors who write in styles far from my own. I appreciate the investigation of language and communication more.
My novel Brown Glass Windows was born of poems and stories and ended up as a two-genre novel….Getting it published and having the book get a positive critical reception has helped me to relax in my writing and just let the work go where it needs to go, go where it should go.