Posted by: Kerry Gans | June 5, 2012

The Benefits of Writing Outside Your Genre

First, congratulations to our first Anniversary Giveaway winner, Donna Galanti! There’s still plenty of time to enter, so come join the fun!

The leader of our Advanced Novel workshop, Jonathan Maberry, is always saying that a writer should be able to write anything from greeting cards to articles to short stories to novels. This does not mean that every writer WILL write everything, just that learning to write in all the different modes available is a great advantage to you as a writer.

Learning to write in many modes makes you flexible and allows you to diversify, therefore opening up numerous revenue streams. Also, it allows you as a writer to bring the skills and strengths you learn for one kind of writing to another kind, thereby strengthening your writing overall. Finally, it exposes you to many types of writing, and you may find that you excel in a genre or structure that you never expected.

Most writers, however, once they find the type of writing they are most passionate about, tend to stick to the same genre or style. After all, it takes years of work to learn the craft of just one type of writing, especially in long forms like novels, and we all have limited time in our days!

But just as we writers are encouraged to read outside our favorite genres, occasionally stretching yourself by writing in genres you usually don’t is a good idea. Breaking out of your box gets you thinking out of the dangerous “comfort zone.” Yes, I said dangerous.

Living in your comfort zone can make you too complacent. Your brain runs down the same paths and same plots and same character types so many times that your writing can lack freshness, and your own enthusiasm can wane. Writing outside your comfort zone stirs things up.

You brainstorm plots and characters that are new to you. You find new perspective on writing itself and begin to find fresh ways of saying the same old thing. The conventions of the new genre might allow for plot points that you don’t normally deal with, and may show you ways to incorporate them into your comfort zone writing to create innovative plot twists. After all, genre mash-ups are big these days!

Stretching outside your comfort zone is a little scary, but the exercise is an energizing experience. You return to your regularly scheduled writing with new zeal, original ideas, and maybe even a liking for a genre you never thought about tapping into before.

Writing outside your comfort zone serves the same purpose as going on a vacation. A change of scenery can do wonders for your state of mind.

Have you written outside your comfort zone? What were some of the benefits to you?



  1. Great post! I did challenge myself – with you last year, Kerry, in Write a Novel in 9 Mos class with Jonathan Maberry. It was hard, but I wrote outside my comfort zone. From writing dark adult stuff in the 3rd person to a middle grade in first person. At times I almost gave up! Glad I plugged away and now love it and working on getting it published.

    Funny thing is, as I write away now on the sequel to my dark novel A Human Element – I cant stop thinking about this new idea for a young adult book now. Go figure! Challenging myself must have opened up new doors. And I’m glad! Really enjoy stretching myself on a new journey – and figuring out something new. I think all writers should try – because you never know what you will come up with and fall in love with something new! And you dont have to try a novel – try flash fiction or a short story or even a poem.


    • Exactly! It’s not just getting outside the genre, but getting into any other form of wordsmithing. It will shake those cobwebs loose.


  2. Great stuff here. Those of you that know me know what I’m comofortable writing. I like stories that are hard, fast, and nasty, the same way I like my music. As part of a short story class I’m taking with Jonathan Maberry, I was assigned to write a romantic comedy. It was a truly rewarding experience. I had fun, and proved to myself that I could do it. Can’t ask for much more.


    • The best feeling is when you try something new and it works. So are we going to see some horror-rom-coms in the future? YOur tag line can be “It’s not your usual romance.”


      • I’m up for anything!


  3. When I try writing outside my women’s fiction and memoir comfort zone I tend toward speculative fiction (science fiction w/o spacecraft or aliens). Fun!


    • Hmm, when I escape my MG and YA I tend toward scifi with spacecraft and aliens. And yes, it’s always fun!


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