J.K. Rowling made headlines last year when she published crime fiction under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, having previously confounded the market with adult literary fiction in The Casual Vacancy. Both are far from her apparent comfort zone of children’s fiction. And John Banville admits that his criminally inclined inner scribe Benjamin Black makes far more money than he does writing acclaimed literary fiction.
Fear of Other Things
Both Rowling and Banville have been very successful writing things which are generally considered not to be their Thing. Maybe it’s escape for them; maybe it’s what they always wanted to do anyway. But many writers have a fear about writing other Things too.
Also, when writers start out, they’re told that prospective publishers don’t like confusion of any sort which might disrupt sales. This includes the use of a psueudonym, or writing in 2 or more different genres. Or, perish the thought, writing a book which crosses genres, or doesn’t appear to even have a genre (because literary fiction doesn’t count until you’ve been published already, natch).
Because, we are told, this is what happens:
Publisher Of Power (POP): Hello, feeble underling. Thank you for your submission. Upon mature, powerful reflection, we have decided there is a chance that we maybe perhaps might publish your torrid romance.
Writer: Yay!!! [champagne cork pops]
POP: We’ll give you a 2-book deal and an advance of $816.90. Sign here.
Writer: Woo-hoo!! Happy days! I’ve like, totally made it!! [sips from bottle which constitutes 10.21% of advance]
POP: There’s just one thing. Your 2nd book has to be submitted within 30 days.
Writer: That’s no problem. I’ve already written my second and third novels. They’re dystopian fantasies about dustbin collection in a world where recycling is illegal.
POP: No, that won’t do. Your 2nd novel has to be the same as the 1st one. We’re building your brand, you see.
Writer: But the thing is, I don’t normally write romantic fiction.
POP: You do now.
Writer: But I don’t, you see. Wait – why am I cuffed to this chair?
POP: Shhhhhh. Hush, now. It’s aaaaall right. Your brain belongs to us now.
If It Ain’t Broken, Right?
But many of us just can’t write the same thing all the time, particularly if we’re trying to avoid churning out stuff that’s so homogenised it could be pumped into the particle accelerator in CERN. Funny writers have days when their writing is black with a bollicky B; romance writers have days when they hate everyone, and crime writers have days when they just might want to see the good in people.
The solution is to write something else entirely: hopefully something that won’t alienate every reader you ever had.
Of course, for those of us who have yet to find an audience, we shouldn’t be worrying at all. Because this is our time for experimentation. Now is when we should be going wild with no constraints, except for time and that incessant urge to sleep.
So for those of us writing in any form – and this includes full-time writers who write magazine articles or political pamphlets for a living, but morph into creative writers by night – what do you switch to writing, to find release?