Thursday, April 28, 2011

Do You Know What Your Genre Is?

I’ve been thinking about parallels between story-telling and gardening. Both topics are fodder for a multitude of how-to books, workshops and classes. Both writing and gardening can be frustrating sink-holes that eat time and money, or they can reward us with beauty, exhilaration, and maybe even a little monetary gain.

God Himself has dabbled in both endeavors. He’s a God who planted a garden in Eden, and He’s a God who told stories about intriguing characters—the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the widow who wouldn’t stop pounding on the judge’s door in the middle of the night.

If there’s one lesson I wish I’d known when I first started writing, it’s that it pays to do your homework before you dig in. Part of the homework is discovering your natural bent. Each plot of land has a particular type of soil, a certain exposure to sun and wind, and terrain that’s right for some plants and wrong for others. We wouldn’t plant alpine flowers in a cornfield any more than we would plant corn on a rocky alpine peak.

A writer with a lyrical voice should write in a genre that allows room for lyricism. A writer who enjoys crafting intricate plots should find a genre that supports intricate plots. It’s not that there are right or wrong genres; it’s a matter of finding a good fit. And once you know your genre, you’ll still need to find just the right story to write.

A few years ago, I was e-mailing back and forth with fellow author Sherrie Lord when I was trying to figure out what the Lord wanted me to write next. Sherrie said: “I think He wants you to write what you want to write.”

I love that idea, but there’s also the concept I shared with another friend who was contemplating starting a book. I told her about a fig tree that I grew in a pot in our house in Michigan. For several years, the thing hardly grew, but when we moved to Georgia and I planted it outside, it took off. It even developed an offshoot, so I divided it into two fig trees. (That happens with plots sometimes, too.) The trees were in the perfect location, and they flourished in the sun and the abundant rainfall.

I started getting excited. Finally, after five years in Georgia, I saw the first tiny green figs. My long-awaited harvest began to ripen, and I could hardly wait to taste sweet, delicious figs.

But even when they were fully ripe, they weren’t very sweet. They didn’t have much flavor. They were just . . . okay. No matter what we did to those trees, and no matter how strong and healthy they were, they could only produce bland, semi-sweet figs. All that time, I’d been nurturing the wrong variety of fig tree.

If only I had done my research.

It takes a long time to write a novel. I don’t want to nurture those pages for months or maybe years, and then realize the fruit can never be more than just okay.

Especially when a writer is contemplating a new project, it’s time to think, to pray, to be quiet before the Lord. I still think Sherrie’s right; we have freedom to write what we want to write. God doesn’t dictate our choices, but we need His wisdom to guide our freedom so our fruit will be sweet and full of flavor.

Meg Moseley is still a Californian at heart although she’s lived more than half her life in other states. She formerly wrote human-interest columns for a suburban section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and home schooled for over twenty years. Meg enjoys books, travel, gardening, her three grown children, and motorcycle rides with her husband Jon. They make their home in northern Georgia


Joanne Sher said...

Love this post. Finding the right writing "niche" is so important. Much to ponder here.

Christine Long said...

I started writing in a genre I've always loved. When I finally finished, I liked the story, but I didn't love it. After writing several short stories, I realized my best ones didn't fit the genre I thought I would stay with. I prayed about it and after a series of events, I believe the Lord has led me to a genre I would never have pictured myself writing. And I love it!

Thank you for this post. I will keep your advice in mind as I continue to write.

Casey said...

JOANNE, so glad the post was helpful. I agree, finding where you fit and will be comfortable for years to come is very important.

CHRISTINE, that happened to me too at a certain extent. I started writing historical because I love to read it. But then found out I wasn't really the best fit for that genre. There is something freeing about knowing where you belong.

Thanks for visiting today, ladies!

Beth K. Vogt said...

"It takes a long time to write a novel."
Sometimes the most profound truths are said with the least amount of words.
I appreciate the chance to meet Meg, as well as her dependence on God as she writes her stories. And finding the writing genre--as well as understanding the elements of that genre--is a challenge. I turned my contemporary romance into a romantic suspense just to try and ramp up tension. It took my mentor to look me in the eye and say, "Beth, you don't write romantic suspense."
She was right. I had to delete a lot of words. A LOT of words.

Casey said...

BETH, if you don't have the right genre it's like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Once you have the right one, you know. You just know.

But none of those words were wasted, because even though it might not seem like it, you'll have grown through writing them. :-)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, awesome post! So glad you visited The Alley today, Meg. There's too many favorite quotes in here to list them all in my comment. :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I am here. In the praying and pondering.

Thanks for this post. Spoke to me.
~ Wendy

Casey said...

SARAH and WENDY, Meg is a fantastic author! And it shows not only here in her post, but in her writing, great book!

trump said...

Im wondering what the ratio of woman to men who read these popular Amish novels?. Richard from Lebanon county's Amish community

Meg Moseley said...

Casey, thank you for your kind words, and thanks for giving me an opportunity to share. I hope each person reading here will find exactly the right "garden plot" for the seeds she's sowing. It makes a world of difference.

Casey said...

RICHARD, I would not know the answer to that question, but Meg's book isn't about the Amish. You might have to google something like that.

MEG, thank YOU for visiting the Alley. It is a pleasure to have you here. :)

trump said...

Hey casey. I was thinking since you guys are writers, that you might know. Regardless those books are doing very well. Thanks for your response Casey. Richard from

Tracy Krauss said...

This was very thought provoking. I even heard one author say that if you want to write different genres then you should have a different pen name. (He called it having multiple personalities!) People associate your writing with your name and vice versa, so I guess this makes sense.

sally said...

Wonderful post. Thanks. This picture will stay with me.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Super post--it's making me think. I love the fig tree analogy, and the thoughts you shared about determining which genre is the best fit for a writer. Thanks!!

Casey said...

RICHARD, unfortunately just because we are writers, does not make us founts of information. If only that were so! :-)

TRACY, that is a good point. But I could imagine how hard it would be to continue to maintain those personialities/ marketing etc. I get exhausted just thinking about it!

Casey said...

SALLY, thanks for coming by! Glad it was helpful. :-)

JEANNE, Meg did give some great tips, thanks for coming by to join in the conversation!

Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Meg! I'm looking at your book right now and can't wait to read it! :)

trump said...

To anyone who might be interested in reading a post from Jean, an old order Mennonite woman from New York state on my blog "Amish Stories". This is Jeans first ever post on the internet, and she's only doing this to give some insight into her culture. Feel free to post any questions that you may have for her, and if she gets enough responses in the form of questions, she may answer a few of them on her next post at her convenience. Richard from Lebanon county's Amish community.