My only true obsession is writing. At any given moment, I am likely starting a new poem, editing a flash fiction piece in addition to wrapping up a new beauty blog. And that’s on a slow day.
Does all of this jumping around negatively impact my creative flow? Not in the least. My most productive days are actually when my plate is fully loaded as an author, teaching artist—and occasional student myself.
I am not alone in terms of genre jumping. Published authors and budding freelancers alike will experiment with alternate styles in order to ward off writers’ block or explore new professional opportunities.
Hugo House teaching artist Paulette Perhach seconds this perspective. “To me, every genre is really just an effect; a kind of large scale literary device. So this spring I branched out and took Annesha Mitha’s class Literary Horror: Using Fear in Fiction,” she explains. “Though I loved R.L. Stine as a kid, I’m a total wuss now and avoid anything scary. But in her class, both in the readings she assigned and the way she encouraged me to stretch my own writing, I felt like a kid again. It was so fresh and new. Now I know how to scare people, whether in character-driven fiction or essays.”
Perhach also really appreciates the “incredible ego release” being a newbie again can offer more established writers—by regaining the “beginner’s mind we can start to lose a decade or two into our careers.”
I also agree there are serious perks to periodically stretching one’s creativity capacity with words. Being a person who is extremely motivated by deadlines, I will often use writing contests as an excuse to be diligent at the computer even if the submission requirements call for a style typically outside of my wheelhouse like flash fiction or comedic verse. Same goes for enrolling in one or two writing courses each year—consistently taking a deeper dive into craft is what continues to expand my skill set as a writer and teacher.
Perhach reveals her experience as faculty-turned-participant is similar to mine. “I took a poetry class, and when we were introducing ourselves, I said, ‘I’m a prose writer, no idea what I’m doing.’ It was so freeing. I got to sit back and watch other students jostle for Best Poet in the Class, as my ego might have tried to do if it were an essay class. Instead I got to raise my hand and ask all the dumb questions. I learned so much,” she says. “Ultimately, it is fun. And makes you a better writer.”
Hugo House writer-in-residence Ruth Joffre affirms what a gamechanger venturing outside of one’s comfort zone can be. “Writing in a new form or genre can reveal the limitations that you may have unknowingly placed on yourself as a writer (or that others knowingly placed on you),” she states. “Why not try exploring your own vulnerability in an essay? Why not try writing within the constraints of a strict word limit? This experience will be valuable, even if the experiment never results in a polished or published piece.”
Having set objectives are by no means a requirement to testing out other genres. Challenging long-held notions of narrative structure, world building and numerous other literary devices in a guided reading course or a facilitated workshop can provide fresh fuel for current works-in-progress, but can just as easily be a replenishing form of play—which every artistic soul certainly needs from time to time.
Rachel Werner is faculty for Hugo House and The Loft Literary Center; a We Need Diverse Books program volunteer; and a book reviewer for Shelf Awareness. She has contributed print, photography and video content to Fabulous Wisconsin, BLK+GRN, BRAVA, Madison Magazine, and Entrepreneurial Chef. She is also the founder of The Little BookProject WI, a community arts and nonprofit bi-annual collaboration. A passionate commitment to holistic wellness and sustainable agriculture keeps her a Midwestern girl at heart—and Madison resident.