Guest post by Jason Olsen
When I was developing as a creative writer, I was always interested in writing in as many genres as I could. The thing is, I never thought of those genres as being anything but independent of each other. When I took a undergraduate fiction writing class, I not only didn’t spend time writing poetry, I didn’t even think about it. As far as my creativity was concerned, poetry needed to leave my brain to allow fiction to take over. When I took a poetry class the next semester, I mentally said goodbye to fiction writing and made sure poetry was in charge of my creative faculties. I thought the way to learn how to write any genre was to focus only on the genre and essentially “unlearn” (or ignore) what I had learned writing other forms. I had fantastic instructors who taught me incredible things, but I felt those things were exclusive to whatever genre I was writing when I learned them. By thinking this way, when I took a creative writing class in a specific genre, I was learning the genre from scratch. I didn’t know the poetry, fiction, or playwriting backgrounds I already had would benefit me when I started writing creative non-fiction. So, I just started writing personal essays as if I hadn’t spent several semesters studying other genres of creative writing. In my head, it all felt too different to tie together.
As I started teaching creative writing, I realized just how bad this idea was. Keeping the genres separate didn’t allow natural intersections to reach the surface. Aspiring writers often come into introductory survey creative writing classes with a particular interest, whether fiction, poetry, plays, or something else. There’s nothing wrong with this—all writers have genres they are more excited about and eager to discuss and practice. But creative writers learn best when exposed to many styles and types. In a “split” creative writing class (where different genres are taught in the same course, but separate from one another), students who have these favorite genres tend to check out mentally (and maybe even physically) during discussions about other genres. When I started teaching, I led a poetry/fiction creative writing intro course (in which the first half of the semester was dedicated to fiction and the second half to poetry). I had students resentful about devoting so much time to the “other” genre when they just wanted to write fiction or poetry. Some students saw the two forms as rival sports clubs instead of approaches that could improve and inform the other. And, not knowing any better, I taught them independently and barely talked about how they intersect.
Fortunately for my students, I have learned a lot since then. Intersecting Genre: A Skills-based Guide to Creative Writing takes the lessons I learned from those classes—and in the twenty years of creative writing courses I’ve taught since that first fiction/poetry class—to show the specific ways all genres can teach us how to write creatively. Since I started to combine genres in classes, teaching them not as distinct parcels requiring individual chunks of time for discussions and study but instead side-by-side equals that we could use whenever needed, students have understood that good writing is good writing, regardless of genre. My students know this approach is always about them and what they’re writing and learning.
This book follows this philosophy and embraces every writer’s potential and the unique universes waiting in their work. Many multi-genre creative writing guidebooks discuss genres independently or with minimal overlap. The bulk of Intersecting Genre is dedicated to specific intersections between genres—fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, plays, and screenplays (although I talk about other developing and emerging genres as well). For example, most of the book’s chapters are structured around two specific genres and discuss what those genres teach each other, along with discussions of hybrid genres that show concrete examples of intersections. This book treats these genres as equals that all matter when it comes to becoming a better writer, regardless of a reader’s ultimate goals. Writing is writing, and genre focus teaches that.
When a published writer gives a public reading of their work and opens the floor to questions, they almost always get some variation of “What can I do to improve as a writer?” This is a crucial question, and it almost always generates the same type of response: write a lot and read a lot. This is the typical answer to the question for a reason—we should always be reading and writing. However, writers don’t always realize that the type of reading and writing does not need to be limited to an individual’s interests. Instead, more variety in what is written and read will create a more well-rounded writer. This approach does not discourage writers from favoring a particular genre, but it also encourages learning, writing, and reading other genres. In this way, writers learn from the intersections. And those intersections are not only valuable but also surprising and exciting in ways a reader might not anticipate. So on your journey to become a better writer, don’t ignore those intersections—they’re home to a lot of magic.
Jason Olsen, author of Intersecting Genre, is Associate Professor of English at Utah State University, where he lives in Price, Utah, USA. He received his Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing (poetry) from Western Michigan University, USA. His publications include a book of poetry, Parakeet, Mark Gruenwald and the Star Spangled Symbolism of Captain America, 1985–1995 (2021) and his poetry and short fiction have been widely published in literary journals. His website is www.jason-olsen.com