It’s often the first question people ask when you meet them at a writer’s conference. I find that most people can boil their answer down into one or two categories.
I always struggle to keep my answer concise, because I write in more than one category. YA, MG, Nonfiction, and the occasional picture book. Being flexible in my writing style has been a key reason for some of the success I’ve had.
One piece of advice I always give new writers is to try to write in more than one category. Stretching yourself and having flexibility is often the difference between being a writer and being a published author.
When I started writing seriously about ten years ago, I was all about picture books. My daughter was small and it seemed manageable. Write a novel? No flipping way could I ever do THAT. Are you kidding?
But then I wrote a short story loosely based on my own experience as a teen. I had a longer story that demanded to be told. Hazzah! It was like a bright light suddenly illuminated my writing!
I became a YA writer.
Selling my YA novel turned into marathon. I never gave up on it, but in between querying and revising and writing a new novel, I submitted a writing sample to an educational publisher and got my first work-for-hire contract for a nonfiction book.
That first contract gave me my first experience working with an editor and meeting writing deadlines. Having those first few books under my belt made me more marketable to my agent.
Writing and researching nonfiction topics under a tight deadline gave me a different skill set. It made me work faster. It made me stress less about each and every word choice.
I hear a lot of people throw around this cliché piece of writing advice: Write what you know.
But I think you need to have a broader scope—IF you want to have a long career in writing. Trends come and go. You need to be open to writing what you don’t know. I didn’t know much about women in World War One, but I just finished a 15K nonfiction book for grades 6-8 about that topic. If I’d stayed true to “write what you know,” I would have been too nervous to take the project.
I didn’t know much about hockey. But my debut novel centers on a girl who plays hockey on a boys’ hockey team to the chagrin of her parents, who’d rather her focus on the family restaurant. Finding a friend to help with hockey knowledge, and doing a lot of research helped me make the voice authentic.
Here are a couple of writing exercises:
- Try writing a scene in a different genre—if you write contemporary, try writing something historical.
- Try writing something for a different age group—if you write YA, try writing a picture book.
- Try writing in a genre you’ve never tried.
- Try rewriting a scene in your current MS from different POV.
Trying even one of these writing exercises will make you a stronger writer, and who knows, you might find out that you’re really good at something you’ve never considered.
I’ve been doing a workout DVD lately, and the instructor likes to say, “it doesn’t get easier, you just get better.”
Challenging yourself to write in different categories and genres will make you better.
Kristine Carlson Asselin lives in Massachusetts and writes Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction. Her debut YA novel ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT (Bloomsbury Spark) came out in April 2015. She is also the author of fifteen children’s books for the elementary school library market. Kris volunteers with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, and loves Harry Potter, Doctor Who, classic rock from the 70’s and 80’s, and anything with a time travel theme.
She is a proud member of SCBWI-New England, a contributor to the Sporty Girl Books blog, and a host for the weekly twitter chat #MGLitChat. Kris does query package critiques under the alter-ego @QueryGodMother and loves doing school visits for kids all over New England. Follow Kristine on twitter @KristineAsselin and learn more at http://www.kristineasselin.com.
Buy Any Way You Slice It here:
Thank you for the post, the exercises and encouragement and wonderful.
Another enjoyable post, as always!
Thanks for this, Kristine! I think you and I met at our 1st conference! 🙂 I too write different things and find that like exercise – it makes me a better writer.
Delving into new genres can be scary!
But I’m diving. Exercise #3, here I come!!
Your advice rings so true for me. I’m so glad I saw this today. I love to write in all genres and I was afraid that was really weird. Thanks for a great article!
Love that quote from the workout instructor. So true about any pasion we pursue! I’ve been focused on PBs but this motivates me to give other interests a try, or as Yoda says, do!
Kristine, thank you for the inspiration to get back to work on my two YA novels I shelved so I could concentrate on my several picture books. I like to switch between the two as my YA allows me to paint a picture where my picture books forces me let the illustrator paint the picture. Keeps my brain working on writing. I have realized that letting my brain work on my description and detail for my YA will alleviate being stuck when writing PB. Very effective writer’s block therapy. Looking forward to reading your new book!
Kristine, I like your advice about stretching yourself as a writer and trying new genres. Gonna copy those exercises now. TY.
Thanks for encouraging us to stretch our writing muscles and make our writing stronger by developing other “cores” and delving into other genres!
Thank you Kristine. You are right about leaving our options open. Since I write young adult and middle grade, obviously my last two picture books sold. Love the process.
Kristine, what a GREAT quote! 😀 “…it doesn’t get easier, you just get better.” And I think the “write what you know” with nonfiction is different than fiction—for the most part. With fiction, I think some of us can write outside our own voice/head and some of us can’t. We do what works, right? 😀 Thanks for this wonderful post! I, too, work in all formats. I kind of can’t help it! lol
I agree, Kristine. I’ve written PBs, ERs, CBs and MGs. But I don’t bounce while I’m knee deep in one story. I need the MC’s voice to be remain clear.
My wimpy muscles really need some stretching;)
I am going to stretch. Thanks!
Having had it stressed to me “write what you know” so often, and my response was “I don’t kow anything” left me longing to write but never doing it. Only in the last few years have I dared to try something different, something I didn’t know. After this, I promise to be daring and ready to write what I want, not limiting myself to what I know. Maybe I will actually emerge as a published author and writer.
I’m going to trust you on the workout analogy! 🙂 But I can totally see that in the writing world… thanks!
Thanks…trusting ourselves to tell our own story could be the key to that wonderful journey we are searching for!
Right now, I’m the opposite. I write picture books, nonfiction, middle grade, and the occasional YA. But in 10 years, who knows? I could have a different answer. Thanks for the post!
Thanks for the post. I’ve been wondering if you should zero in on a specific genre or try out whatever you’re interested in. Good information!
Another excellent post. Thanks! I especially love the “stretch” where you write a scene in a different genre. Can’t wait to try that. 🙂
Thanks for the advice!
Great advice! I always need a good shove to get out of my comfort zone, but I’m always grateful once I do…