A writing exercise makes its way through the blogosphere periodically: “Pick a book of fiction you’d never read (e.g., if you read sci-fi, pick a romance). Open to a random page and read the last couple paragraphs of the page. DO NOT TURN THE PAGE. Now continue writing the story. Feel free to change the genre as you write.” One blogger asked: “Should I close my own writing off . . . ? Pigeon-hole myself in one genre? Most writers do find themselves working mainly in one or two genres. Is this because they can only write in those genres? I don’t think so. A good writer can write well in any genre. I believe writers wind up in one genre over others because it is the one they personally enjoy the most as a reader and a writer. [Emphasis added.]”
Do you believe that “[a] good writer can write well in any genre?”
I consider myself a good writer. In fact, I will take that a step further. As to a couple of specific genres, I consider myself an excellent writer. One is legal writing. Over the years, I have achieved a degree of competence and success drafting legal products such as briefs, motions, and memoranda. I have received recognition for my efforts and always feel empowered and capable when I sit down to draft such documents, even though I might feel less sure of the legal theory for which I am advocating.
But there are numerous genres or writing styles with which I am not at all comfortable and, indeed, for which I do not feel that I have any aptitude. One of them is fiction — in any form, but particularly fantasy or science fiction. It certainly isn’t due to a lack of exposure to good fiction because I’m sure that if I counted up all of the wonderful novels I have read over the years, they would number in the thousands. I have read the work of some of the world’s most renowned authors and studied their technique as part of various English and writing classes I took in college.
Still . . . I could never sit down and write a novel. I just don’t have the ability. I lack the imagination.
I am of the opinion that writing is an art. And because I am a musician, I analogize. I have known countless musicians over the years, some of whom approach the craft in a very workman-like manner. They achieve technical success, able to perform extremely challenging music flawlessly. And yet, there is something missing from the performance. Although note-perfect, a musician who lacks the ability to transcend the notes and rhythms in order to communicate the emotional message of the piece will never be deemed a truly great musician. He/she leaves the audience with a nagging sense that the performance was neither complete nor satisfying.
And so it is, I believe, with writers who might study the craft and master the technical aspects of putting together a particular written product. Unless a writer — like a musician, painter, sculptor, photographer or any other artist — is able to evoke an emotional response, the result will just be a series of words placed upon the page in a technically proficient manner. Nothing more.
After experimenting, I decided years ago that there are certain types of writing that I will never master. I am comfortable with that knowledge and have chosen to strive for excellence in the genres and styles where I believe that I have legitimate potential. Specialization is required in many professions, including the practice of law and medicine, and I highly recommend it for writers, as well. So I won’t “genre-jumping” any time soon.
Do you agree with Paul or have you found that you are able to write in any genre or style that you attempt?