I am completely taken with the novel All the Birds in the Sky and by completely taken, I mean obsessed. I've read it twice, and I want there to magically be a film adaptation tomorrow. In a pitifully small nutshell, this sci-fi fantasy romp that places the magical and the technological world s head to head in a brutal battle for power. Add a Romeo and Juliet-esque complication, and I was sold by page three.
But this isn't just a plug for the novel, although if you're reading this I expect you to go get a copy ASAP. This is, however, a huge plug for genre-jumping. And if you're already putting up your nose saying I don't DO fantasy or sci-fi, I especially charge you to try it. Minimally try a genre that you may enjoy but have never attempted for the following reasons:
1 - You will have to learn. As writers we ought to be learning constantly through our reading and workshops. Through mentor texts and interaction with authors. Unfortunately too many writers feel that their voices and styles are fixed somewhere after college and don't necessarily try to evolve.
2 - Genres need to be challenged, too. Perhaps you can bring new flair to an established medium. Your personal style and voice paired with a new genre might just open up a new space for authors to write in.
3 - We don't know until we try. It's impossible to know what you're good at it without flopping here and there. What if children's lit is your thing, or perhaps gritty detective narratives will allow your skills at setting creation to flourish.
4 - You won't be bored. Ever feel like you're writing the same story over and over again? Do characters nefariously appear and relive their plot like Groundhog Day? It's tougher to do that in a different genre, and it forces your brain to be creative in a different way.
5 - It's fun to fail! Ok, maybe not fun but we all need more practice and we learn more from what doesn't work than what does. Write a historical piece and see what you learn. Maybe research isn't your thing, or perhaps developing a not-so-modern voice doesn't gel with your voice. That's ok, and now you know.
Ultimately I think one of the most attractive things about the writing life is the ability to continue to grow, defying age, defying physicality, and defying resources. It is truly a craft accessible to everyone with a bit of elbow grease and determination.
April is my favorite month for writing because it's typically the month I sign up for summer conferences and plan where my writing is going for the duration of the year. The NJ SCBWI conference is by far my favorite, but I also investigate writing retreats and summer contests. As a teacher I'm afforded the luxury of being a mostly full-time author in the summer.
But as I make these plans I also block out which projects take priority, and every year I ask myself if it's wise to embark on two, three, sometimes even four writing adventures simultaneously. The same questions flash through my mind.
Would I be more productive if I just buckled down with one piece at a time?
Will the projects become repetitive?
Do characters hop from one work to the next?
Is splitting my attention essentially heading down a rabbit hole of never finishing anything?
And every April I arrive at the same answer. Absolutely not. While I can't speak for every writer, I know that laser focus on one project for me leads to writer's block and burnout. My writing blurs much the same way my eyes do if I stare at one thing too long. And while I keep a writing routine (writing every morning for at least two hours) working on the same project exclusively makes my passion fall into the landscape and becomes a task as tedious as cleaning the bathrooms and wiping down kitchen counters.
That being said, there are a few tips and tricks I use to keep projects organized up in the air simultaneously.
Physical Space: I keep the projects in separate binders or separate folders, color-coded so they carry their own visual cues. Just the different appearance often is enough to help my brain transition from one project to the next, particularly if the colors relate to the tone and vibe of the work.
Temporal Space: I never work on things back to back and minimally give myself an hour or two of physical work to cleanse my creative palate. I am by no means an avid exercise gal, but nothing allows me to reframe my focus like walking the dog or funning a few errands.
Emotional Space: The mood of the pieces matter. Rushing from a tragic piece to something cheery leaves a bad taste in my mouth. My mood matters, too. Multi-tasking my writing never works if I'm feeling overwhelmed in the other areas of my life. Doing so is akin to trying to parent my children simultaneously when both have different needs and different joys and challenges. If major problems in the 'real' world are at play, I've got to clear out those cobwebs before my fictional worlds can take flight.
Market Space: This one is touchy. By market space I really mean do these projects have a finality to them? Are they being entered in contests or submitted to agents? Have I given thought to where they'll go, or are they balloons in the wind with no real direction? Multiple open-ended projects can induce a sense of frenzy. If none have deadlines or take priority over the others, they can easily become tangled.
For me, multi-tasking my writing projects keeps them alive and keeps me on my toes. I know it's not for everyone, but that's ok. As with parenting, teaching, and the other facets of my life, I appreciate the fact that as I get older I learn how to best do each to suit my skills and challenges.
Writing has always been an escape, a passion, and a friend. And I love the fact that in my free time and through my career I can help others discover their voice, too.