I’ve written here before on the subject of intellectual curiosity, and extolled the virtue of reading outside of your chosen/favorite genre. Now here’s a question: Have you written anything but science fiction or fantasy lately? No? Try it!
Of course I’m not suggesting you set aside your fantasy/SF work-in-progress and set to work for the next six months on a mystery novel, but how about a short story? Taking another bit of my own advice and working toward my personal goal of writing more short stories, I’ve put together my own list of the stories I’ve been meaning to write, thinking about writing, and so on, but I’ve also added to that list some stuff I didn’t think I’d ever try. This has matched up well with another resolution of mine, which is to expand my consulting business and my life in general to include new projects, new ideas, fresh starts, and unexpected opportunities. I’m currently working on some “secret projects” including a book I’m finishing up that has some SF elements but is really more of a medical thriller. I’ve even been working through a proposal for a romantic comedy, believe it or not. I’m working with two consulting clients on non-fiction books on subjects I’m not personally an expert on myself—but I am an expert editor, and know how to write and work with writers, etc.
This sort of project has proven to be a godsend not just for my bank account but for my personal and professional development. It’s keeping me interested and fresh and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a position in my professional life where I’m simultaneously learning and teaching across a broader spectrum.
I can’t recommend the feeling strenuously enough.
I love science fiction and fantasy. I always have and I always will, and those genres will continue to dominate my writing and editing, from the upcoming Traveller novels to my own fantasy novel-in-progress, but along the way I’m going to pick up some extra energy by exercising my intellectual curiosity across a much wider range of subject matter, widening not just my own experience but my circle of friends and associates as well.
I don’t think you’ll see a mystery novel from me in the foreseeable future, though I’m happy to report I have been noodling around the edges of an idea for one for a while now, but a short story? Yup. What else should I try? What else would you try? Romance? Erotica? Men’s Adventure? Western? Comedy? Chick lit? How about your attempt at the Great American Novel? I have literary aspirations of my own—if not me, who? If not now, when?
But in all seriousness, I have always tended to be drawn to the outer edges of the genre. My favorite fantasy authors tend to write really straightforward, broad sword & sorcery like Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, or literary experiments from authors like J.M. McDermott or Mark Z. Danielewski. I tend to read in the so-called “mainstream” pretty rarely, though I think its fair to say that the Forgotten Realms novels I’ve written more or less fall into that category.
I’ve written my share of sword and sorcery lately, including The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff, so I’m due for a little literature. But a full-length novel? Not quite yet. A short story? Count on it.
The best authors, like Iain Banks or J.G. Ballard, to name just a couple, allow themselves the freedom to write what they want, how they want, and simply ignore the publishing business’s tendency to pigeonhole or “typecast” authors inescapably into one genre or another. And with the publishing business in its current sustained state of flux, I’m not sure they have either the power or inclination to typecast or pigeonhole anyone anymore.
You may not find a publisher for your short erotica or western novella, but there’s always Kindle, Smashwords, etc., etc., etc. And maybe those short stories never see the light of day at all, but the effort will make you a better writer.
Any writing inevitably does.