This starts out with writing as the primary focus, but I’ll bring it around to more of a general understanding.
If you go to an event, a conference, an MFA program, as a writer, you’ll usually get the same question, “What do you write?” What they mean by that is, “What genre do you write?”
In truth, I write Nonfiction and have been attempting Poetry, a lot. Occasionally, I’ll write Fiction. You’re usually expected to choose only one because that’s what most people do, they choose one and stick to it, they specialize. This helps you in your craft, to focus on being the best at one thing. It also allows you time management. That is, it takes a lot of work to write, let alone write in different ways, and this is most effective. The same can be said for most arts and creative endeavors.
When I was introduced to the concept of Creative Nonfiction, I was also introduced to the concept of using tools from poetry and fiction in writing true stories. That’s why I became adamant on mastering the other genres, or, really, having their basics under my belt. Using lyrical diction or crafting scenes that flow naturally with dialogue and whatnot, and aren’t just recounting events and facts, are important skills to have. So, when I get asked which genre I stick to, I almost feel insulted. Although, it is still a fair question, it’s necessary for me to have a little of each, even hybridization and experimental forms.
I understand the mindset. Specialization leads to a mastery of craft and form that you can’t get otherwise. But even some of the best painters tried their hands at various styles before settling on their preferred one, and, even then, not all of them stuck to what they became famous for. Still, there is the idea that each genre also has the inclusion of subgenres. Creative Nonfiction has the subgenres of Memoir, Autobiography and Biography, Lyrical Essay, and Immersion writing, to name a few. If you would like to learn more, I recommend Sue William Silverman’s, The Meandering River: An Overview of the Subgenres of Nonfiction. And Fiction has even more.
Typically, even when people will say that they focus on one genre, they probably also mean, even more so, that they focus on a subgenre and rarely have anything to do with the others, let alone another genre altogether. The reality of writing is that it’s difficult to be very good at one style without focusing on it exclusively, but, at the same time, it’s good to have the tools of the others at your disposal. For instance, the lyrical essay demands that you have a background or, at the very least, some experience with poetry or poetic writing. What’s interesting about the lyrical essay is that it can also be interpreted as a prose poem, meaning that it is a genre bending style in and of itself.
If you’re wondering how this might be applicable to outside the arts, there are probably a few ways I could put it. One way that comes to mind is to compare it to a liberal arts degree and a more specialized degree or study. Not to offend anyone. I do want to point out that sticking to one thing is fine and often preferable as it helps you to know more about one subject and be better at it.
Back in 2011, I went to China for a three-week study abroad course with my undergrad, Hiram College. It was a wonderful experience, and we were there during a time of unprecedented exponential economic growth. While we were there, we were introduced to a person who, I believe, was an economist or in that field. He explained to us something that we all found truly odd, China had no concept of liberal degrees. They didn’t even have them.
You see, in that culture, you decided on a profession, went to school for it, graduated, and then got a job in that field for the rest of your life, a concept lost to us Americans. The problem was that the rapid expansion of China’s economy as well as the progression of technology would make some of the people’s jobs either obsolete in a few years after receiving their degree and entering the workforce or make it so that their knowledge on the job was no longer valid/up to date. When this happens, they have nothing to fall back onto. The benefit of a liberal arts degree is the roundedness of it. Yes, there’s no specialization and you tend to have a smaller income, but you have the flexibility in an ever-changing market to do something else, have a focus somewhere else. That’s sort of how I see genre or style crossing in writing and the arts. Well, sometimes. It’s not a perfect analogy. Nobody is perfect though. You know what I mean?
I’m mixed on this, as I hope you can tell. I both want you to cross over to other genres, but, at the same time, I’m telling you that you don’t have to. A singular focus is a good thing to have, especially in the arts. A dabbling in everything is great too. I feel someone will read this with the argument that I’m just talking about a dabbling for mastering a singular style or genre, and that’s somewhat true. I’m not a professional poet. I don’t professionally write novels or short stories. I wouldn’t profess to saying I’ve mastered these things, let alone Creative Nonfiction, for that matter. I am saying that you should try them out, again. Master them to the best of your ability, and if you find you don’t want to stick to them, then go back to whichever genre you prefer. But keep what you learn from the other, it will strengthen whatever you do.
All the Best,
*Peeks around corner wearing a red and white, striped bathrobe*
*Approaches from back of hallway*
You’re still here?
*Retreats to back of hallway*
*Waves hand dismissively*