Typically, when one is trying to improve their skills in a certain arena, they focus all of their practice and learning in that narrow field. For example, a marathon runner may prepare for the long race by spending countless hours jogging long distances, or the golfer will tediously practice his drive. But, in recent years, sports sciences have discovered that one of the best ways to improve an athlete’s performance is to have them cross-train. In other words, the marathon runner may use a series of sprints, and a combination of weight lifting and cardio to prepare for a marathon. The golfer will also lift weights to increase his drive distances. What does this have to do with writing?
Many successful authors have touted the advice that as writers we must read widely. If you write science fiction novels, you should know your genre well, but don’t forget to read poetry, historical fiction, horror, and romance. Why? It is like literary cross-training. Even further, you should also write in these genres. Not to the point where you are neglecting your chosen field mind you, but enough to expand your mind’s method of thinking while you write. Each genre has specific goals that must be met to a degree for the story to be successful. And, genre mash-ups are quite the rage now. I often prefer a book that I have difficulty in classifying with a genre.
And, my personal opinion is that all writers would benefit from setting aside a substantial portion of their time for the reading and writing of poetry. Poetry is a challenging and rewarding form of writing that forces the mind to think both specifically and abstractly about words, sentences, phrasing, timing, and rhythm, among many others.
Much like the short story, poetry forces the writer to strip away all that is not contributing to the desired effect of the piece. This is
a great benefit to any writer who suffers from the affliction of writus verbositiosis. Mastering poetry can take a lifetime, but the benefits of writing poetry will be immediate.
What are your thoughts? Has writing in other genres and styles helped your work? How so? I’d love to hear from you.