In a recent episode of Lena Dunham’s Girls, Hannah, the main character, quits a lucrative day job writing advertorials, because she’s convinced it will stifle or kill her creative writing abilities and prospects. Granted, this character is only 25 (and often mental). But many people do believe that writing in another style, kills their style.
In this post, I had a look at the potential and pitfalls of having different fiction genres vying for supremacy in a writer’s brain. Many people manage this quite successfully, but I’ve never heard anyone speak publicly about how they do it. Do they write in one genre for six months, and then switch to another? Or do they work on two completely different projects at the same time?
How do you do switch between genres, forms or structure without style leakage, where your new writing voice casts an indelible shadow over your old one (if you even knew what that was)?
For instance, I’ve written short- and long-form fiction; 2 quite different adult novels; 1 young adult novel, and a few screenplays. I would rarely work on 2 different projects on the same day, though, because the end result would be a woeful example of any of them. It just doesn’t work without at least reading something in between which functions as a palate cleanser. Even then, I’m still not sure it works that well at all.
What About Professional Writers?
Some of us are lucky, in the professional sense. Some technical or business writing is so far removed from creative writing that it has about as much effect on your narrative voice as the writing of a shopping list.
For instance, I might write a very officious-sounding piece of business guff at work and have little difficulty in going home to write doggerel in the kitchen. Generally speaking, the two seem to be mutually exclusive. A certain part of my brain is devoted to finding synonyms for words like “revenue”, “significant”, “average” and “negative”; whereas another part of my brain entirely is responsible for coming up with descriptions for things like love, guilt, and that feeling when you realise you’ve just completely misunderstood what someone said to you and you look like a total spanner.
What do you find tends to leak into other areas? Are there certain types of writing which cannot peacefully co-exist with others? And if so, what do you do to separate them?
Great article Tara 🙂
I often struggle with switching between writing tasks and maintaining each with it’s own style. I’ve found, much like an actor takes on a role, to prepare for my writing, be it a fashion article, blog, novel or technical manual. I have a space dedicated for novel writing (with three in the works at the moment) where pictures and character descriptions adorn the wall, pieces of vocabulary, plot points, and other bits and pieces pertaining to the book; so when I sit there it is easy to immerse myself back into that world.
When writing for work I do similar, to a degree, having guidelines for article writing and a certain tone in which must be used. It’s fairly structured, and I find creating these short pieces easy… and when I hit a bit of a stumbling block with the novel writing, this is a great break away: short and effortless. Then I can get back to the book with a fresh set of eyes.
Additionally the technical writing I do for work, like textbooks and manuals, I treat much the same as the articles, breaking it down to ‘bite sized’ pieces I can scatter throughout the week ready for when my brain starts to sputter with the creative process.
The rush you get for completing these smaller cousins helps to rejuvenate your zeal for the novels as well.
I do catch the writing styles crossing over on occasion, but it’s fixed in the editing process – and have found the outtakes usable for other projects in most cases.
But on the whole I love being able to switch styles and work on different projects simultaneously – it staves off monotony and writers block.
It’s interesting that you’ve set up a different physical space for a very intense form of writing – novel writing. That’s a great idea. Particularly because it sounds like it’s easier to switch to the writing of short worky pieces than switching from those into the writing of novels. I will be poaching these writing tips of yours immediately and without any guilt whatsoever !!
Glad my zainy writing nooks scattered around the house sounds like a good idea to someone 😉
I do something similar electronically. I set up a file on my computer for each project I start. In the file are lists of names, timelines, photos of real people that reflect the characters I am writing about, etc. When I go back to writing that particular story I open all the documents on my desktop so that I can easily flip back and forth between them and the manuscript document. It seems to work for me. Also, if I get to a place where I am stuck, I can go onto the internet and do backgound research, look for more photos, find related newspaper articles, etc. adding that information to my story file, until I find a spark of inspiration that takes me back to the manuscript file. It’s a kind of virtual writing nook!
That’s a great idea. A writer’s digital scrapbook! I’ll have to give that a go myself. Sounds like a super way to re-immerse yourself in the universe of your fiction…
Interesting article. For years I wrote fiction at the top and bottom of the day and financial reports of various sorts during business hours. What I remember most was coming back in the evening, opening the fiction file, and feeling as if I’d taken off tight corsets.
Must think more on whether the two sorts of writing affected each other. Thank you!
Thank you, Jenny! It’s hard to know whether rigidly structured business writing helps or hinders creativity – the very notion that you felt like you were taking off a tight corset may mean that you were even more creative in your creative writing than you might otherwise have been. If you have any insights into those effects after you’ve thought about it, I’d love to hear them!
Reblogged this on The Muses Guild:AVE BRAAVOS.
I was the ‘voice’ of a large chunk of National Express for quite a long time. I wrote everything from the material put into reports for government to the guff on the timetables to instructions on some ticket machines at Heathrow. Everything that part of the company said in the public domain had to be written or passed by me. I used to dictate swathes of my book in the car on the way home. If anything it made my voice stronger because a lot of the customer service stuff involves you having to be very precise with how you word stuff. However clear you think you’re being, it’s amazing how easily other people can get the wrong end of the stick.
If anything, that time improved my writing immeasurably but never changed it. I guess for me, a writer’s ‘voice’ is your essence distilled, the literary embodiment of you. So, once you know who you are, nothing’s going to stuff it up, it’s no different to being ‘professional’ at work and a bit of a joker at home. I think for me anyway, once you’ve got it – and I admit it took a long time to find – nothing can change it.
Hi MT… what you say about precision coming from professional writing reminds me of the saying “a good editor will bring you to say what it was you wanted to say in the first place”. It’s amazing how often what we think we’re saying, doesn’t come across the right way at all. Perhaps every writer should have training in writing what they don’t necessarily want to write, in order to hone their skills for writing the stuff they do!
(It also occurs to be that there is a lot of convoluted repetition just there which I would NEVER get away with at work 🙂 )
I wrote and still write ad copy and corporate marketing/communications material as well as articles, etc. for thirty years. Fiction came later. Having the structural experience actually freed up my fiction as I was used to writing with an agenda. I now concentrate on the setting, the characters and their stories, and the structure is automatic… usually.
And another excellent point, Richard. People who write professionally have the experience necessary to more easily overcome one of the greatest pitfalls, which is cementing your backside to the seat in order to get your writing done in the first place!
Tara, love your articles so by the way. As a new aspiring writer, i am trying to find my feet, or is it, my voice. I have written a romance story of sorts; I am busy with an adventure story, and in the wings is a thriller waiting. Romance was easy to write; the adventure story is giving me a hard time, and althought the intro to the thriller was easy, i have no clue how to go on. Maybe romace seems to be the genre i am to work on, but they are so all the damn same….
Thanks Loro! The thing about romance, I suppose, is that it’s successful through every genre cycle because it preoccupies everyone on the planet. Even if every romance is the same, the characters can be different, so there’s your angle, and I think if it comes easy to you, it might be better than you think. Your voice will come through in time. Even overnight authoring successes have been writing for years – it’s only the discovery of them that makes headlines!
In general, I feel the more you write the better you become at it, whatever the end product. I often switch between articles, novel, blogs, blog posts and graphics for leaflets/bookcovers or whatever. There are times I feel more like going with one than the others, and that tends to be fine, and I just get on with it. If stuck on one, or the words are refusing to flow, then I switch to something else.
Interesting that some people feel some kinds of writing may be detrimental to their efforts in other areas. Can’t say I’ve experienced that. Writing apart, my weakness is that I tend to be desperate to include photographs in whatever I do as, to me, I enjoy heightening one with the other. I think we just have to enjoy our efforts and foibles and learn to use them to best advantage.
Not sure whether that’s even addressed your questions.
I completely agree that the more you write the better you become. Switching between different things can always lend a fresher and more unique persepective into what you’re writing.
And I think most readers appreciate photos to break things up, especially since we’ve become so much more conditioned to mixed media through the Internet. Remember those old Victorian books with beautiful colour plates throughout? Bring them back I say! They were part of the magic of reading more grown-up things as I grew up. I still love picking up books that do experimental things with text and drawings – they feel like they better reflect the inside of your head…