What sort of writing do you dream of doing?
It’s not an idle question. I was chatting with someone via twitter a little while back about writing, and it finally dawned on me that their definition of ‘writer’ and ‘writing’ was actually ‘novellist’ – they assumed that everybody who dreamed of ‘becoming’ a writer wanted to write fiction; this defined the field for them.
That, in fact, is what I was formally trained in myself. But alas, I had to admit, the book I was working on was non-fiction.
Writing encompasses not just novel writing – and all the genres of it – but also short story writing (a different skill set), essays, science papers, journalism – feature writing in particular – non-fiction in its many forms. Even blogging, which is a slight variant on the feature writing skill set.
All of them draw from the core competence of being able to write – the control of words to evoke emotion. It seems to me that writers should tackle more than one of the types of writing before they go on to specialise. It gives different insights into the essential skill – making words your servant, so as to evoke an emotion in the reader. Writing in a different field forces control of style and content. It means you are familiar with more than just the specific skills needed for your preferred genre or field. And that breadth pays dividends. It all feeds together. You’ll be surprised how it works when you then come to the aspect of writing that you’re most passionate about.
It shouldn’t be daunting. One way is to go blogging, which has the double benefit of expanding your author platform – gets everything moving towards the same end goal.
There’s nothing unusual about this approach; a broad skill base is an essential part of formal training in many arts. Musicians do it – some music qualifications, for instance, specifically require that a performer master a second instrument. It’s true for actors, too. We often classify actors by their best known roles – but in fact, the best actors are trained to play anyone – and perform in any genre. Think of Michael Caine – a brilliant dramatic actor who is also a brilliant comedian.
It’s the same with writing. Remember Isaac Asimov? He tackled everything from short stories to novels to popular science essays to limericks. Because, for him, writing was a profession – he had total control of his words, and that made it a transferable skill that allowed him to write virtually anything.
I think that’s a good way for any writer to be.
What do you figure?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Coming up this week: Inspirations in New Zealand’s deep south, more on kindness, science geekery, and more.