Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cross Training

What's in your locker?  Prepare for cross training by keeping a variety of tools
in your gym, er, writing locker.  Image © Lori Gravley
The theme for Antioch Writer’s Workshop last week--from the Saturday workshops, to Roxanne Gay’s Keynote, to discussions with fellow writers throughout the week-- was cross training.

This was a welcome change from an SCBWI conference I attended five years ago when the talk was all about platform and single message.  I’m just not a single message kind of girl.  I write poetry for adults and children, creative non-fiction for adults, and fiction for children.  I find working in multiple genres enriches my writing and creates a fruitful environment for new ideas. 

This year, working on my adult poem-a-day commitment, I came across a subject perfect for a picture book.  For the next two weeks, I wrote poems for that project.  When I finished it, I went back to the explorations of travel and spiritual practice that I’d been working with for my full-length poetry collection. 

I have to be careful not to use new projects as a distraction from finishing, and I’m ever aware of Heather Seller’s warnings about Sexy New Book Ideas.  But writing across genres improves my writing overall.  Mastering the storytelling I needed for fiction has strengthened my voice in my dramatic monologue poems and helped me find the narrative arc within my verse works for young adults.  Learning to let go of words in poetry has made me a better editor in my fiction and non-fiction work. 

Amy Krouse Rosenthal has been my hero for a long time, in part, because she can cross train so effectively.  John Green is another writer who moves across genres, in his case from fiction to film.  Jane Yolen is a master at cross training within children’s literature.  And my graduate school mentors, Benjamin Alire Saenz and Leslie Ullman, have provided wonderful models, Ben with his leaps between YA and poetry and Leslie with her effortless movements between non-fiction and poetry.

I’m happy that the writing world is beginning to accept that writer’s don’t need to stick to one genre, Jack of all trades master of none may be a truism for some things, but more and more writers are realizing that real mastery can be aided by cross training.   

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