Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Genres are Not Four-Letter Words

Most writers want to be John Steinbeck. I don't mean that they literally wish they could write about Cannary Row all day long; no, I mean they aspire to grandiose goals, just like Steinbeck. His most memorable quote, as far as I'm concerned, is when he was asked to describe his book "East of Eden" and he said (and I'm paraphrasing), "It's all in there."

By "all", my professor at the time said what Steinbeck meant was that all of his aspirations as a writer were contained within its covers, all of life and its vicissitudes. In other words: everything.

That's a grandiose statement, but if you've ever read "East of Eden", you'll see that it spells out what was probably Steinbeck's view of life in a pretty straightforward manner, albeit wrapped in Biblical imagery.

This is what so many of us writers start out wanting to do from an early age: explain the world as we see it. Tell parables others can learn from. Be the wise man/woman others search out for guidance. We want more than anything to wrap our arms around the impossible immensity of life and show everyone the beauty of it.

But honestly, those days are over.

True, we still have Jonathan Franzen, and a few others of his ilk, but his kind are few and far between. Unless you're a genius and you also get lucky, your tomes aren't going to be seen by anyone but the mealworms who eat out the pages as they sit moldering in your desk drawer.

Which is why it's a good idea, if you haven't already, to try to become the master of a much smaller domain.

Far be it from me to tell you to aim low -- you should still try to be a great writer. But specialize. Don't be afraid to be weird, to create characters that are outside of our everyday realm. And don't apologize for it.

From everything I've read, in the age of the internet, specialization is the new watchword. Try to be the best (insert genre here) writer you can, introduce us to inimitable characters conjured out of your sub-subconscious. And for the love of all things holy, don't stray into fifteen other genres before you get really good at the one genre you really want to master.

I mean, it's a free country -- write what you want. But it seems like unless you stay laser-focused on a single genre, you won't make much money, and it'll be harder to maintain your craft. I'm just telling you this because it's the strategy I've decided to implement after careful consideration, and I'm very optimistic about it. It'll be interesting to see if I can stay focused, considering my average attention span of 5.2 seconds. But we'll see.

What do you think? Is this is a good or a bad strategy? Am I thinking too small? Give me your take.

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