Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Think Outside Your Genre

Post by NCW Director Kerrie Flanagan

At an NCW coffee yesterday morning, the members in attendance shared what they learned at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference that took place a little over a week ago. April Joitel made a comment that stuck with me. She said, "Go to as many workshops as possible even if they don't directly pertain to your type of writing." She went on to say that she learned just as much, if not more from attending sessions that she didn't think had anything to do with her genre.

I thought at the time that this was great advice for writers planning to attend a conference. Then I realized this is great advice in general. We should all think outside our genre when signing up for classes, going to an author event, or picking books to read on the craft of writing.

If you are a fiction writer struggling with dialogue have you ever considered taking a screenwriting class? Writing an effective screenplay requires a great deal of skill with dialogue. How about reading or listening to Q&A style interviews to catch subtle nuances of language?

Are you a writer who needs to learn to write tight or needs to make your didactic, academic writing more easy to understand? Why not take a children's writing class or read books on how to write for children? Those who are successful at writing for children are masters at getting to the core of the story or the topic. They write it such a way that is easy to understand but it doesn't dumb it down for the reader.

Nonfiction writers can learn a lot by studying fiction. There was a workshop at the conference called, Creating a Sense of Place. This might seem very fiction driven, but the truth is, good nonfiction also needs to draw readers in through the different senses. Knowing how to create a vivid setting places a reader in a piece. Whether that is the plushness of a five-star hotel, the stench of an overflowing landfill or the purity of nuns singing their morning prayers at an Abbey, incorporating the senses makes it more memorable for the reader.

What about the business side of writing? A good book proposal is at the core of selling a nonfiction books. But what about fiction? Most fiction writers don't create a book proposal for their book--it isn't usually required by agents and editors. But I bet fiction writers could learn so much by putting together a proposal for their book, even though if it was just be for their benefit. Proposals would force authors to look at what they have written, figure out where it fits in the world of publishing, what is the competition, how does their book differ from the current books on the market and how are they going to help with marketing.

The more I think about it, the more I realize just how connected all genres of writing really are. We can learn about foreshadowing from mysteries, relationships from romances and the beauty of language from poetry.

Have you ever taken a class or workshop that wasn't directly related to your genre and ended up learning a lot from it?


Linda L. Henk said...

I took "Art as Contemplation: The Use of Oil Pastels to Explore Nature" at the Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale. As a high-school kid on the science track, I took no art...had no time, would be a waste of time, wouldn't apply to science. When I went on the retreat, I also taught sixth graders dissection of cow and pig parts, eyeballs included. At the art retreat, I learned color theory and related to artists what parts of the eye could see color. I didn't expect a crossover of ideas on a contemplative retreat. Surprise, surprise!

Lisa_Gibson said...

Great advice. Sometimes you learn the most valuable things, in the least expected places. ;)

Patricia Stoltey said...

I attended John Caldarazzo's session on lyrical essay which is way out of my area of writing interest and expertise. However, he got me thinking about a couple of things in a new way.

And the watercolor class I took from a well-known artist in a small town in France was amazing. In spite of the language issues, the experience was magical.

Kay said...

Agree. I think the process is similar to cross-pollination.

Jenny S. said...

Whenever I see a class/session on "world-building," I automatically think it's too sci-fi for me. But it's probably very helpful for anyone looking to create a more authetic setting in any genre.

Anonymous said...

That is good advice. I attended Laura Pritchett's session on Personal Essays and picked up some ideas and tips.

Kerrie said...

Thank you all for sharing different ways you have found writing inspiration. It sounds like for some of you, art and writing fit together nicely. :-)

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