How to Switch Writing Genres?
Not long ago, I had a conversation with Pen and Ink Artist Anna Meshejian and she explained how you harvest wild pawpaws: You gently shake the tree. The ripe fruit will fall to the ground, and you can use the harvest to make I dunno, mountain-mango meringues (disclosure: I’m not a baker) or pawpaw pudding (an Anna Meshejian verified dessert). My experience switching writing genres, from nonfiction to fiction during The Forge Writing Program is a similar concept. You must gently shake the tree. Yeah, that's you, you're the tree.
I arrived in the writing program kinda a jack-of-all trades, but I was stuck in a personal essay groove and I was curious what was on the other side of my needled canyon.
As I mentioned in part one of this series, I’ve worked with Mike Cooper for a few years, leaning on his editorial and coaching services as I retooled a mountain of early motherhood essays. He’s been an ace up my sleeve, the rosemary on my new potatoes, and I do well with his analytical-yet-not-persnickety editing style. Because Mike is also a mentor in The Forge, we both agreed it would behoove me to try new things during the program. Fortunately, it's unavoidable to try new writing genres at The Forge, the way the workshops and homework is structured, but for the final project, in which we were all challenged to produce 50 pages of original content, I was fiction-curious.
Self-Loathing, Vulnerability and Writing into the Darkness
I wrote an allegory (you know like The Tortoise and the Hair), about a Florida manatee who had a series of bad things happen. I wrote it in a hurry, and was somewhat embarrassed that it had the scent of children’s lit all over it, but Ellen Santasiero, my mentor at the time was tickled by it. So I calmed down and figured it can’t be all that bad. Then under the duress of another deadline I wrote a new fiction short story, this one about sea turtles who were pursing continued education, and I had an existential crisis that sounded something like this:
WTF is happening right now? It’s time to pick up where Melissa Febos left off and right the wrongs of women and yet here I am, drafting songs for sea turtles.
I posted the sea turtle story on The Forge slack channel #sharingiscaring, and surprisingly, my mentor sent me a note saying how much she enjoyed it and thought it was funny. That gave me pause.
Huh. Perhaps I should not fill my cup with self-loathing and suppress the stories that my subconscious wants to tell? And perhaps I am not awful at fiction, even if the stories are coming out of left field––even if they make it more inappropriate for me to DM Melissa Febos and explain I write too and would she please read my sea turtle story?
Having a professional sounding board like Ellen Santasiero during these moments of vulnerability and switching writing genres, when I felt I was writing into the dark, was invaluable. I learned to trust my instincts and chase the muse wherever it took me. I wrote an awful lot about Florida —and shit’s getting weird y’all.
And like that paw-paw tree in Appalachia, the experience of The Forge Writing Program enabled me to shake loose a new harvest. I finished the program with a scrappy start to a novel.
I am stoked that I climbed out of my nonfiction groove, and can't wait to see how my novel ends. But then again, what is happening right now? Guess my desire to write nonfiction is alive and well.
Next Up: Closing Thoughts on The Forge Writing Program
As you've gathered by this point, I’m still smiling like a creep in the Afterglow of The Forge and writing this five part blog series as a desperate attempt to keep the experience alive. The final installment will cover the closing ceremonies and camaraderie of the creative writing program.
Wrap up The Forge Writing Series with Closing Thoughts.