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Should we write in different genres or stick to one?

The new international biennial Seek showcases the work of 100 visual artists selected by curators Calinda Salazar and Fletcher Ramsey. The artists come from all walks of life. They paint, sculpt, draw, direct short movies, and more. The unique thing about the exhibit? It’s all make-believe–even the “curators” aren’t real. Artist Shea Hembrey created the fictional artists and their artwork over a span of two years.

Above is a video of the talk Hembrey gave at Ted.com where he shows a sample of his exhibition.

How does this relate to writing? For his exhibition, Hembrey created works of art in a variety of genres. As writers, we know that the more we write, the more we learn—we learn about writing, about craft, about ourselves. But should be write in different genres or stick to one?

I’ve heard an agent or two say that a writer should stick to one genre in order to develop a following. This is good advice. But it doesn’t mean you can’t also write in other genres. Many famous writers worked in more than one genre—they just used pen names. Writing in other genres let them grow as writers and probably kept them from going bonkers from writing in just one category.

I started my writing life as a poet. When I began writing prose, my poetry background was a huge benefit. And, after a few years of writing prose, my poetry got better.  Each time I go outside my comfort zone and try a new genre, I grow as an artist.

I like having two or three projects going at once. Currently, I’m working on a fantasy novel, a book of poems, and I’m learning the guitar so I can write song lyrics. What’s the benefit of this? When I get stuck or need a break from one project, there’s always another waiting. I don’t think I could work on two books at once, but a book and a poem, or a book and a song seem to inspire each other.

Until you become one of those rich and famous authors who need to worry about pen names, try out some different genres. Maybe even follow Hembrey’s cue and create a few fictional characters who write in different genres–poetry, romance, horror, memoir, haiku, screenplays, etc.

Try it. When you’re done, reflect on how the new genre made you grow as a writer.

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