Friday, September 7, 2012

Do the thing that scares you: switching genres

Is there a genre you love to read but won't even try to write?

For me, it's commercial science fiction. I absolutely love a story based in science gone awry. It tickles my brain and makes me feel like my world is much, much bigger than day-to-day life.

But when it comes to writing it, I chicken out. It's the preparation time, the painstaking process of creating an entire alternate reality: world-building. And if you just pants it, it ends up missing a lot of important elements, like a consistent history explaining how the current status quo came to be or a social caste system which there always must be. The idea of writing a science fiction novel is overwhelming to me.


Because I've been looking at the masters.

In a similar vein, I've always wanted to be an artist and never have been one. It's the details there, too. The shading and lighting, the organic flow of a subject's hair or feathers. My drawings are awkward, my eye completely untrained. I'm no artist. Don't you have to be born with that talent? Despite my American upbringing, I've always kind of believed that there were some things I just couldn't do. Like math. Art. Science Fiction.

Again, too much looking at the masters. 

While drawing with my five-year-old yesterday I decided to do something about it. See, I've been making a point of telling him that he won't be perfect at anything the first time he tries it and that everything takes practice.

"But I'm not good at tennis." 

"Keep trying. Everything takes practice."

"But I'm not good at reading."

"Keep at it. Everything takes practice."

"But I'm not good at writing on the lines."

"Keep going, sweetie. You're doing better than you know. And with practice, you'll get even better."

Suddenly the hypocrisy of my words hit me. (If you're a parent, you know exactly how this feels.) So I picked up my husband's sketch pad and a regular old pencil and, armed with a giant eraser, started sketching. Nothing original, yet. Like fan fiction or formula fiction, copying the art of others makes me better. I took my time, was patient with myself, and accepted that the first several things I draw will be goofy-looking. Sure enough, everything so far has been quite goofy.

But I'm doing it.

My first animal drawing: a crane

And someday, maybe I'll actually draw something I've only seen in my imagination and combine two of my great loves: art and creative writing.

What scares you?

Benjamin Franklin Homework:

Ben Franklin used to go to the library to copy essays from the great writers. When he was done, he'd set aside the copywork and try to duplicate and improve upon the essay from memory. Then he would compare his new essay to the master's essay and spot areas where he was yet lacking. Eventually he was able to improve even upon the masters' work. 

So your homework is to pick up your favorite sample of the genre or style you've always wished you could write, and read the very first chapter. Then, without looking at the original, try to duplicate and improve upon it. If a story springs up in your mind, by all means veer off and write your own thing. 

But above all, keep practicing. 


Diana Gallagher said...

Great post! I feel this way about fantasy. I love reading it (Tolkien and Martin instantly come to mind), but then I drag my feet when I think, "Hey, maybe I should try this myself."

Nice crane, too. :)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Thank you, Diana. :)

Yes, Tolkien! Great example! I'll look for the next great full-bodied fantasy world by Diana Gallagher. Does it take about ten years to write a series like that? We'd better get started!

ilima said...

Ooh. Great homework assignment. I just might do that...

Jarm Del Boccio said...

Writing a full-length novel scares me! My non-fiction PB has morphed into a chapter book, so, we will see...

A.J. Cattapan said...

The more I hear about Ben Franklin, the more he amazes me. Where did he find the time to do everything he did?

Katrina L. Lantz said...

A.J., I'm in awe right along with you! I think he did more to improve himself than any other man of his time. Not to mention the inventions that made life better for others, too. I'm happy to have examples like him to follow. :)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Good luck! Sounds like you're already venturing into the great unknown and are on your way. Awesome.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Let me know what comes of it, ilima. I'm planning to do it tonight with Paranormalcy.

Susan Francino said...

Benjamin Franklin makes us all look like slackers. But I love him and his brilliant mind.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Wonderful drawing - well done!

I'm with you on the sci-fi. I have an idea, have notes and notes and notes written for it - but can't bring myself to begin for fear of research and getting it wrong.

Julie Hedlund said...

Very courageous and a great message for all of us!

Anonymous said...

I think what I struggle with is settling on/committing to one idea. My mind flits upon a new better concept and story and "way to do it" or whether to make it MG or YA and soon enough I get no project completed. I can't seem to rein myself in and completely committ to that idea. Yipes. I think reading so much hinders me to be truthful because the book's story/genre/voice starts to influence me....BUT , I can't not read...I always have to read a book every day and read a lot in just one month alone...its just something I need to do to get "out of my head" :)