The genre question: of tight briefs, speaking crows, and magic pickles

Whenever I get stuck in my writing, I wonder: press forward or change tracks? Am I working on a bad idea, or do I just need to work harder?

Some writers know exactly what they should write. She’s a news release writer. He’s a sci-fi novelist. They’re a flock of free verse poets. (Skein? Or gaggle? Depends if the poetry is taking off.) I try to do it all.

I know I’m good at news briefs (- the shorter the better. You could call me the tighty-whitey of current events). I get to collect and create those at my new job: everything from who Mennonite Disaster Service is helping now, to why Apple’s denying porn apps on the iPhone. Fun stuff. Useful stuff. But not very creative. (And it’s all gleaned from news releases and websites. The college prof. in me is slapping my own hands for not doing original research.) I could take my love of terseness and use it to write a book of daily meditations.

I know I can do poetry…when the muse shows up. But it doesn’t quite scratch my itch for self-expression, either. And most of my friends don’t like reading it. (I mean poetry in general, not mine in particular.) I have been thinking about going to a poetry reading like Speaking Crow to see what kinds of faces actual poetry-lovers give me. But I’d need another crow to fly with me.

I could write biblical research articles for academic journals. I did once. It was on the unity of Deutero-Zechariah. It was a stink-load of work. Nobody read it.

I know people appreciate my life-writing. And finding words for the difficult situations I face gives them order and meaning (beyond “that stank!”) in my spirit too. That’s why I blog. But people expect different things from a blog than a book. An autobiographical book would have to have a point. And once you give it its own purpose, it’s hard to make it sound authentic again. It can start to feel preachy, self-helpish, or narcissistic. Maybe someday I’ll find a thread in my blogging that could tie a book together.

But there’s a part of me that still wants to do fiction. There are things I think about and feel deeply that I can’t talk about in the first person. Either because they’re too personal or they aren’t true (at least, not in the usual sense). I think I could do fiction, if I got going, but it still leaves the question: what kind? I’ve tried contemporary and spun my tires till I sunk.

Children’s adventure stories a la Alice in Wonderland or Hamish X and the Cheese Pirates (Love the footnotes. I’d play croquet through the holes in Swiss cheese with you anytime, Sean Cullen!) would be fun. Many children’s writers start out making up stories for their kids and then humbly share them with the rest of the pint-sized world.

(I did take a Children’s Writing course by correspondence once. A waste of hundreds of dollars. I think the best piece I submitted was my entrance test. It was about my first day in grade 1: I was overwrought with anxiety that the teacher would get so into dinosaur-sculpting, library book-picking, bead-counting, and just general information-transferring, that she would completely forget to break for lunch. I must have driven her nuts reminding her, but it made for a delightful Munsch-esque tale of woe.)

It would be quite a legacy to leave my children their own world of dryads and dragons, musical pirates or magic pickles. But once you write a kids’ book, people assume you can’t think like an adult anymore. However brilliant they may be, would you pick up a political analysis signed by Beverley Cleary or Roald Dahl? How about Dr. Seuss?  (Green Party or Grits, Green Party or Grits, do you vote Green Party or Grits? One tax, two slips, red tape, blue lips.)

Listen to the mice. Based on the ones who’ve squeaked at me so far, on the genre question I would tell myself:  Think intentionally and make time to write whatever comes without evaluating, but don’t force it. You don’t need an identity as “novelist,” “poet,” or even “published author.” You create. You share. You have time.

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