On Writing: Thinking Outside the Box

Do We Choose Genres, or Do They Choose Us?

Guest post by Angel Lawson

writing process choosing genres

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I’ve never been one to settle inside a particular box. This holds true in most areas of my life but definitely in the creative ones. The more pressure I feel to fit inside a particular mold the more likely I am to kick and push and flex to get outside.

I’ve spent years as a visual artist and teacher. There’s nothing I enjoy more than finding materials and figuring out how to make them into something new. Bottle caps, scrap paper, paint, wood and anything else reusable can be reconfigured into a million different original pieces.  I think this is what held such appeal with writing, taking words and ideas and situations and then forming them into an entirely original creation.

My favorite part about being a writer is the endless possibilities and directions I can venture into. This is especially true as a self-published author. Once upon a time I queried agents and publishers. Going the traditional route seemed the best way to go, right? What did I know about publishing? Nothing. But the more and more I learned about self-publishing the more it appealed to me. One reason was the fact I don’t “fit” in any one box very well, I never have. Playing in a variety of sandboxes makes me happy. Because of this I started playing “What if?”

What if I get an agent and they only want YA paranormal?

What if they want a series and I get writers block? (I don’t do well when people tell me what to do).

What if I decide I don’t want to write anymore and I want to do something different creatively?

I slowly started to realize that the traditional route wasn’t really the best direction for me.

The first book I published fell in the Paranormal YA genre. Before that was published I’d finished another book, a Contemporary, Coming-of-Age YA. Next up was a New Adult novella. Followed by an Adult Urban Fantasy. Because I’m bound to no one but myself (and my readers) I write what I want to write and how I want to write it. Sometimes I like to write things that test the waters. Other times I write what comes from my heart and brain at the moment. It’s all done at my own pace in my own way. Some books come very quickly while others require a lot of plotting and planning.  Like most things in life, I think the books we love and work on the most probably receive the least attention. The others that we write in a manic flurry in the middle of the night receive the most.

What’s it like to write so many genres? Pretty fun, actually. I do think it confuses readers some. They don’t know exactly what they are getting from book to book.  I have to hope that if they enjoy one book they’ll pick up the next one and give it a shot. I never get bored and I never think, “Oh I don’t write X genre so I can’t go there,” or “you can’t use footnotes or illustrations.”

Why not? The best way to me to be successful and happy is to ride the wave of my creativity, which over the years I’ve learned, holds no bounds.

About the Author

Angel Lawson lives in Atlanta with 2 mini-superheroes, one big-superhero wannabe and a growing herd of pets. She spend her days creating art out of words, glue and glitter while chasing away zombies, serial killers and ghosts at night. She is the author of FanGirl, The Wraith Series and an adult romance, Serial Summer. The third book in the Wraith series will be released in December 2013.

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On Writing: Write What You Know? Maybe Not.

Reality Lacks A Satisfying Narrative Arc

Guest post by Jeanette Grey

write what you know

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The message is everywhere: write what you know. We hear it from college professors, from abrasive-but-ultimately-kind-mentor-characters in movies, from random relatives who think they have sage advice to offer about writing in spite of never having really pursued it themselves.

It’s reinforced when friends suggest you should write a book about your life. Or about their life. Or about the life of one of their friends who recently had something interesting happen to them.

It’s reinforced when everyone scoffs at the disclaimer in the front of every novel about all people, places and things being fictional.

And it’s so, so tempting. I don’t know about you, but my most wildly productive writing years occurred when I was in my teens and bleeding words onto a page. I just had so many emotions to deal with and no other way to process them except through writing. I wrote what I knew, all right. I wrote my pain, and my joy, and the petty, petty details of my relationships, my family life, my school life. My word count was astronomical, and the sheer carnage in terms of wasted novelty notebooks and drained sparkle pens was enough to fund my local stationary store for years.

Here’s the thing, though: writing about reality is, in general, a terrible idea.

Now, I’m not saying that non-fiction doesn’t have its place. Of course it does. But novelizing real life events has an inherent flaw, because reality lacks a satisfying narrative arc.

What’s a satisfying narrative arc? It’s the lovely, circular aspect of a story that writers painstakingly weave into their books. It’s the details planted in the beginning of a novel that come to fruition in the climax. The twist of fate that unites a hero and a heroine that have complementary strengths and flaws. The conflict that represents whatever the main character fears most and present her with a chance to grow.

They’re the aspects of a story that make you jump up and down, your heart glowing, and that leave you beaming after you turn the last page.

Sure, these things happen in real life, but rarely in the kinds of combinations they do in books. Rarely in the kinds of combinations they need to in order to keep a reader devouring your books.

A random anecdote from life is like a burlap sack, and a well-crafted novel is like a finely tailored suit. Everything fits. And sure, you can cinch a belt around a shapeless swath of fabric, but it’s just not the same.

Personally, when I was still writing about my own life, my stories never seemed to go anywhere. I would get bogged down in the true events behind the story, and I never knew how to push past them to make the story into something more.

It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I got the hang of it. After a wordless decade, I started immersing myself in the world of fiction again, and new ideas started to emerge. They were untethered to my life except in the details. I set completely fabricated stories in locations where I had really lived. I gave heroes and heroines jobs I’d really had. I incorporated elements of personalities of friends and loved ones into invented characters, but I invented the characters. I made up the scenarios. The real, embedded details allowed the imagined stories to come to life, but the realities of my mundane and unsatisfying life stopped restraining the narrative, hamstringing it to true events that didn’t really matter to anyone but me.

For me, the key to writing fiction that jumped off the page was just that: writing fiction. I had to write what I didn’t know.

And using my imagination was what finally allowed me to write books that felt true.

About the Author

Jeanette Grey started out with degrees in physics and painting, which she dutifully applied to stunted careers in teaching, technical support, and advertising. When none of that panned out, she started writing. Her stories include futuristic romances and erotic contemporaries, and almost all of them include hints of either science or art.

When she isn’t writing, Jeanette enjoys making pottery, playing board games, and spending time with her husband and her pet frog. Her most recent release, Take What You Want, is available from Samhain Press as well as on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She blogs regularly at Bad Girlz Write and irregularly at JeanetteGrey.com. Follow her on Twitter or Like her on FaceBook.