When I started writing my first novel, CHASING AFTER VANITY (for which the hunt for an agent goes on), it was really an academic exercise. I wanted to prove to myself that I could actually complete an entire book. That exercise had eluded me for years, and I decided that I needed to challenge myself to either produce something, or quit pining to be a writer. So after acquiring a copy of No Plot? No Problem? (written by the same guy who created National Novel Writing Month), I put myself on a 30 day timeline to write a novel.
Then I made a strategic decision that proved to be a really good move. From the outset I’ve always, deep down, wanted to be a writer of fantasy. Swords and heroes and dragons, etc. I first felt the calling after reading The Hobbit, and since then I’ve never questioned what kind of writing I wanted to do. But in a sudden twist, I decided to leave the fantasy writing alone for my first novel. The reason? Fear. I was afraid that if my self-imposed dare failed, that I would throw away the ideas that I had long nurtured in one way or another over several years. So I decided to develop an idea that occurred to me while at work (an office job) that seemed entertaining, and so 30 days later the very rough draft of CHASING AFTER VANITY was born, and along with it the proof I needed that I could be a writer.
So now that my first novel is in the slush pile, I’ve moved on to my passion. And although I knew there would be similarities and differences between the genres, I’m still a bit stunned how much a mental shift it is to re-orient my brain to think in terms of heroic fantasy. I’m not going to discuss the details, since my style may or may not line up with yours. But the take away lesson here is that since I’ve written in two completely different genres now (ok, written one and started another) I can feel me pushing my writing skills and challenging myself to grow even more. VANITY taught me that I could write. My new work, SHADOWS AND BONES, is teaching me to think and write in different ways and adapt to a very different world where I can’t just assume that the readers can relate to certain elements of the environment that I’m writing about. While it may not necessarily be more difficult than writing a novel set in the “real world”, it certainly does take a lot more planning and thinking.
That brings me to the moral of the story: if you get the chance, challenge yourself and write something outside of your genre of preference. It doesn’t have to be a whole novel. Write a short story, a poem, anything that will make you learn new facets of the craft we writers treasure so much. I’m finding that I am all the better off for it.