“You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want.” – Anon.
There is no shortage of writing advice out there. Books, websites, blogs a’plenty will give you all of the secrets of writing success. How to boost your productivity, improve your focus, raise your quality, etc., etc. One of the chestnuts I’ve come across more than once is “avoid skipping around genres”. Pick a genre and stick with it. If you write sweet and sappy, your readers will come to expect sweet and sappy. You need to keep writing sweet and sappy (and ONLY sweet and sappy) to develop a following.
If you should ever write anything weird and spacey, or sexy and scary, or (God forbid) something gruesome and ugly, you’ll just piss everyone off and alienate your readers. Your original readers will abandon you and you won't get any new ones because your body of work is too inconsistent.
Disembodied Voice of Reason: “Whoa, Tony, hold on, you really went off the rails there. Are you OK?”
Tony Noland: “Fine! I’m fine! Never better!”
DVR: “You don’t sound fine.”
TN: “I'm just getting a little frustrated with conflicting advice. I asked about writing in multiple genres in an #agentchat on Twitter. I got opposite advice from two different agents. I should say, from two people who identified themselves as agents. I’m trying to find my way as a writer, trying to find my voice, whatever the hell that means. I'd like to avoid making rookie mistakes that I'll just have to spend a bunch of time and energy correcting later on.”
DVR: “I know you, Tony. You want to avoid making any mistakes at all. That damned 'zero defects' standard of yours has gotten you into more trouble than your smart mouth. Regardless, what’s your problem here?”
TN: “The problem is that I’ve written a bunch of different stories in different genres, and several of them have gone over pretty well.”
DVR: “Why is that a problem? I would have thought you’d be happy with a positive response to your fiction.”
TN: “I am! It’s just that I don’t want to write in just one genre all the time. I get lots of ideas, see? Some of them are happy, some sad, some kind of scary or ugly. I don’t want to be pigeonholed.”
DVR: “Has that been a problem? Are people upset because you’re put up different types of writing?”
TN: “Not exactly, but every now and then someone says something like, ‘Tony, if you wrote stuff like this [i.e. this genre] all the time, I’d come back more’ or ‘Tony, you are very, very good at [specific genre], you should write more of it’ or ‘Gee, Tony, this is so much better than that [other genre] story you wrote last week, this is your true calling’. It just makes me worry that I get too many people who read one or two stories, but don’t come back because they get turned off by a story that’s not what they were expecting.”
DVR: “So, you aren’t happy with the loyalty of your readership? Or is it the growth rate of your readership?”
TN: “I’m just worried that I’m doing this wrong!”
DVR: “Doing what wrong? What exactly are you concerned about?”
TN: “Just… everything! All that advice that says don’t switch genres!”
DVR: “What advice? You mean the stuff at the top of this blog post?
Pick a genre and stick with it. If you write sweet and sappy, your readers will come to expect sweet and sappy. You need to keep writing sweet and sappy (and ONLY sweet and sappy) to develop a following. If you should ever write anything weird and spacey, or sexy and scary, or (God forbid) something gruesome and ugly, you’ll just piss everyone off and alienate your readers.That advice?”
TN: “Yes, that advice. Look at me, look at this blog, then look at that advice, and tell me I’ve got nothing to worry about!
DVR: “You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
TN: “Oh, thanks a lot. That helps tremendously, really, it does.”
DVR: “Relax, Shakespeare. Two things, OK? First, that advice is passed around by agents who are thinking of the marketability of their authors, not their creativity. It’s not intended to be a straightjacket to prevent you from exploring your writing wherever your imagination takes you. Some writers work exclusively in one color: butterfly-pastels, FM-red, bone bruise-purple or some other shade. Others jump around. One kind of writer isn’t necessarily better or more noble or talented than another. It’s just that people are different. If you want to write different things, why not?”
TN: “But the logic of that doesn’t hold up. If sticking to one genre supports the marketability of the writer, then by posting my variety of stories here, I’m working against myself!”
DVR: “Ah, that brings me to point number two. You aren’t understanding the advice properly.”
TN: “I’m not?”
DVR: “No. The advice shouldn’t be taken to read, ‘write only in one genre’. The advice is actually, ‘publish only in one genre’. They’re talking about publications. Putting stuff up on your own blog doesn't count. Have you published any of these stories?”
TN: “Well, a couple of them.”
DVR: “So don’t worry about it. This is a playground, for you to have fun and get some exercise. Finding your voice means getting comfortable with writing prose that sounds like YOU, not like you trying to channel Wodehouse or Asimov or Trollope or McPhee. You need some time and space to do that, to work out what direction you want to go in. You can write whatever you want; this advice applies only to material you’re publishing. Writing and publishing are two different things.”
TN: “So… I don’t need to worry about genre hopping until I want to publish my books?”
DVR: “Exactly. Even then, you can still write whatever you want; just give it some time and sit on the material that’s outside of your main racket. Publish it later, after you’re so famous with one kind of writing that the genre switch will be taken as a sign of your genius and flexibility, instead of a sign of your inability to concentrate.”
TN: “Wow. I guess I never thought about it that way before. I really shouldn’t stress out about this stuff so much, huh?”
DVR: “It’s OK, Tony. It just shows that you care, that you’re interested in doing good work.”
TN: “Interested, or obsessed?”
DVR: “Heh, you said it, buddy, not me.”