Work All Your Mental Muscle Groups- The Benefits of Writing in Different Genres by Brad Windhauser
In high school, I ran track. I wasn’t competitive (wasn’t my goal), but I enjoyed being in shape, liked my teammates, and enjoyed pushing myself during practice. One of the great things I learned while being a part of the team was how to train. I ran the 800 (or the half mile). But during practice, we ran the 800—however, we seemed to run everything else a whole lot more: from sprints to long distances. Why? In building all of our muscles, we became better runners. Professional or otherwise, all athletes vary their workouts, and this same approach to muscle training can (and should) be applied to your writer development.
Specifically, you should write and practice writing in other genres. This will sharpen the tools you use in your particular craft.
Let’s say you write fiction. This genre asks that you pay attention to character development, plot development, use of details, dialogue, and summary versus scene (just to name a few). You should sharpen the use of all these tools, but how they’re used can become rote for your work—you’ll tend to use them in the same way. Other genres emphasize the use of certain tools over others, and working with those uses will benefit—and expand—how you work with them.
Non-fiction is perhaps the closest to fiction you can get. There are also several sub-genres of non-fiction, such as memoir or narrative non-fiction. In general, however, non-fiction tends to take a paired down approach to prose—are there exceptions? Sure. But, if you practice writing just the facts without the “flowery” language that can seep into fiction, you’ll learn to appreciate when to thin out your writing in order to move things along quicker. That doesn’t mean you will always write like this. No, you’ll appreciate when this approach to prose might enhance certain sections of your work, leaving room to go more descriptive when it suits a particular story.
Poetry is about as far as you can get from fiction. And although I’m no poet, what I appreciate about poetry—at least the type of poetry that speaks to me as a reader—is the attention to details. A poet makes you see, a poet makes you feel by lingering in the moment. The word choice is crucial here. Practicing this can really assist you in how to render emotions and vibrant details within a crucial scene.
If working in other genres away from fiction feels too awkward, there are certainly sub-genres of fiction that can help you stretch various creative muscles. For example, try science fiction. This genre pays particular attention to the use of setting—the reader has to be believe in the world in which your story is set, one which is typically vastly different than the one we live in. A good sci-fi writer understands how to establish a setting and then build on that initial introduction by folding more of the world into the narrative as a character interacts with it.
Of course there are a plethora of other sub-genres within fiction you can work with—each will present a new challenge on how to use a particular tool. So do other writing genres, such as screenwriting and playwriting. Try them all. And remember: you’re practicing, no one has to read it—so don’t worry if what you write is “bad.” Practice makes perfect.