Some people are really happy working in the same genre all the time.
I’m happiest when I go between very different genres, but I’ve discovered a surprising bonus to flightiness: working in a new genre whets my appetite for going back to the one that bored me in the first place.
For example, I wrote five “chick lit” books in a row. “Chick lit” is considered a dismissive term now, but at the time it was a helpful marketing handle. Anyway, when it was time to start manuscript #6, the idea of doing another chick lit novel was just a huge yaaaaaaaaaawn for me. So I didn’t. I started something else—a contemporary YA novel—just to see if I could.
I could: I got three offers of representation.
And when I was done with it, going back to chick lit sounded like a fun break from contemp YA. Fast forward a few years, and I was a little bored with both of those genres so I decided to switch it up again and I took a run at a historical novel, again just for fun. Not only did I discover a new facet of my writer’s voice, but—you guessed it—it made the idea of returning to my contemporary genres seem fun instead of boring.
I’m commitment-phobic by nature, so I guess none of this should have surprised me. But I’ve learned one other little trick for amping up your creativity too: restrict it.
You read that right: RESTRICT IT.
I had to do another romantic comedy last fall when I was totally not in the mood to write one, but contracts are contracts. And I knew if I was bored then readers would be bored, so I looked for a way to make it fun. I decided to choose one of the corniest tropes I could find and then write a story that was actually good based on the trope. (FYI, it was the “secret baby” trope.) It turned out to be totally fun, and I think I did a pretty good job with the story.
But whichever genre I just finished writing in is always the one I feel burnt out on, so once again, when I finished the “secret baby” story, I felt like I didn’t want to write another romance ever again. But I love my readers and the idea of being burnt out made me sad, so I brainstormed ways to make it fun again. That meant finding a new restriction to challenge myself. I decided to do a chapter-a-week on my author Facebook page every Friday where I do a gender-flipped contemporary fairy tale. I polled my readers to see which fairy tale they wanted, and within 24 hours I had restricted parameters with a modern male Rapunzel character. Brainstorming the broad outline of that novel with some writing friends is some of the most fun I’ve had in ages. And the fact that I only have to do it once a week keeps me from feeling too resentful of working in a genre I’ve worked in fairly often already.
And the bonus, of course, is that each time I work in the just-for-fun fairy tale, it makes me itchy to get back to the historical YA I’m supposed to be finishing. Because did I mention I’m commitment-phobic? But switching it up allows me to make that work for me instead of against me. You just have to figure out how to hack your own brain; nothing makes me want to get back to a project I used to be tired of more than finding a new project I’m more tired of. And then round and round I go, with the time I spend enjoying my work far outweighing the time I spend feeling burnt out on it.
This is a bad principle apply to relationships, but I have to say, project infidelity works great for creativity!
Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and shoe addict. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and a series of doomed houseplants. Her seventh novel, Southern Charmed, released in October. Melanie is pursuing a Masters degree in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her contemporary YA novels are represented by Alyssa Henkin..